MANILA (AFP) – Philippine rebels said Friday they acted purely in “self-defence” in a clash that killed 44 police commandos in the volatile south last month, despite police claims that they were ambushed.
January’s botched anti-terror operation in Maguindanao province saw the single biggest loss of life of government forces in recent memory and has cast doubt over the peace process, sparking calls for the resignation of President Benigno Aquino.
The commandos were hunting for one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Bali bomber and Jemaah Islamiyah militant Zulkifli bin Hir, who initial DNA tests show was killed during the fighting.
While authorities claim police came under ambush by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – who occupy the area where Zulkifli is believed to have been hiding – the MILF vice chairman gave a different version of events.
“They (rebels) did not ambush the PNP-SAF (commandos),” Ghazali Jaafar told local broadcaster ANC, adding the unannounced police presence gave the rebels the impression that they were under attack.