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Cablegate: New Milf/Afp Encounter Leads to Beheadings

VZCZCXRO9045
OO RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2344 1920936
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 110936Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7375
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS MANILA 002344

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS
USPACOM ALSO FOR J5
SECDEF/OSD/ISA/AP (TOOLAN/REDMON)
JOINT STAFF/J5 (WILKES/ROBINSON/CLEMMONS)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER MOPS RP
SUBJECT: NEW MILF/AFP ENCOUNTER LEADS TO BEHEADINGS

1. (U) Officials of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF)
have claimed a July 10 encounter with the Armed Forces of the
Philippines (AFP) left fourteen Philippine Marines dead,
which AFP sources subsequently confirmed. The encounter
reportedly began when the AFP entered a camp near the village
of Tipo-Tipo on the southern island of Basilan. Ten of the
AFP dead had been decapitated, although the MILF disclaimed
responsibility for the beheadings. The AFP's Major General
Mohammad Dolorfino, the Philippine government's head of the
Ad Hoc Joint Action Group, told the press that Abu Sayyaf
Group (ASG) terrorists were likely responsible for the
beheadings, in apparent retaliation for the alleged death
during the encounter of the son of ASG leader Isnilon Hapilon.

2. (C) Western Mindanao Command sources confirmed that the
AFP troops had been acting on a tip that kidnapped Italian
priest Father Bossi was in captivity in Tipo-Tipo, and had
been returning to their barracks after the information failed
to pan out. According to Deputy WestMinCom Commander
Brigadier General Juancho Sabban, an estimated 300 MILF
troops ambushed the 60-70 man Marine force when one of the
Marine trucks bogged down in the mud. The ensuing intense
firefight involving close quarter combat lasted from 9:45
a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Sabban claimed that the Marines were able
to inflict 50 casualties.

3. (C) Sabban said the Marines "never considered" that they
would come under fire from the MILF. "It's really
unbelievable; we thought they were cooperating with us in
trying to free Bossi," Sabban stated. Although he considered
the MILF ambush "treachery," Sabban upheld the importance of
preserving the Mindanao peace process.

4. (SBU) Comment: This episode is a tragic, but likely
short-lived, interruption of the four-year old cease-fire
between the MILF and the AFP, with both sides committed to
the peace process and utilization of the AHJAG and other
mechanisms, such as the International Monitoring Team. The
apparent co-mingling of MILF troops and ASG operatives is a
disturbing element, however, but the MILF was quick to
distance itself from the terrorist beheading, a common tactic
by the ASG.

Visit Embassy Manila's Classified website:
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/eap/manila/index. cfm
KENNEY

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