MANILA (Reuters) – Philippine officials blamed a group of Muslim rebels for two explosions that killed six people on the southern island of Mindanao on Tuesday, as another bomb went off on Wednesday without causing any casualties.
A military spokesman said two army commandos were killed and nine wounded in new clashes on the remote southwestern island of Jolo on Wednesday, as troops stepped up an offensive against a violent group of militants.
Late on Tuesday, six people were killed and about 30 wounded in Makilala town, with four wounded earlier in the day by an explosion at a public market in Tacurong city.
Police said a bomb went off on Wednesday around midday near a bank and a shopping mall in central Cotabato city, while the army found a second device in Makilala that failed to explode.
Emmanuel Pinol, governor of North Cotabato province, put the blame on members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim rebel group in the mainly Roman Catholic country that is in protracted peace talks with the government.
He said the bomb used in Makilala “had all the signatures of the MILF,” citing similarities to past attacks in the south.
“I’m deeply disappointed because we are talking, we have been communicating and they promised not to use violence in pursuit of their cause,” Pinol told reporters.
All four bombs were made from 81-mm mortar shells detonated by mobile phones, security forces said.
Army bomb experts said the unexploded device in Makilala was attached to a mobile phone that showed 20 missed calls when it was found in a bag near a bar where the bomb went off on Tuesday during a crowded festival to mark the town’s founding.
Colonel Ruperto Pabustan, a brigade commander, said on Tuesday a rogue faction within the MILF, suspected of close links with local rebel group Abu Sayyaf and regional militants from Jemaah Islamiah, could have planted the bombs in Makilala and Tacurong.
Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the MILF, denied his group had any role in the Makilala and Tacurong attacks.
“The accusations hurled by the governor were unfair,” Kabalu said. “It was a sweeping statement even before any investigation could pinpoint the people behind the bombings. The MILF is fully committed to the peace talks and the ceasefire is holding.”
Talks to end nearly 40 years of Muslim rebellion in the south have stalled since May over the size and wealth of a proposed ancestral homeland.
“We are asking the government and MILF ceasefire panels to assist in the identification and interdiction of the bombers,” presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.
Some police and army commanders in the south have suggested the bombings could be in retaliation for the arrest of the wife of an Indonesian militant hiding with the Abu Sayyaf on Jolo.
Abu Sayyaf, the smallest and most violent of four Muslim rebel groups in the Philippines, has been sheltering members of Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian group that seeks an Islamic superstate in the region.
Dulmatin and Umar Patek, a fellow suspect in the October 2002 Bali bombings, fled to Mindanao from Indonesia three years ago, helping to train local militants in making more sophisticated bombs from mortar rounds.
Last month, security officials warned of bombings in key centers in the south in retaliation for a fresh offensive on Jolo, where 6,000 troops are hunting hundreds of Abu Sayyaf rebels.