Statement of Moro Islamic Liberation Front peace implementing panel chair Mohagher Iqbal on the Basilan encounter incident. (Courtesy of Mohagher Iqbal)

COTABATO CITY – The chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace negotiating panel with the government has called for the cessation of hostilities in Barangay Ulitan, Ungklaya Pukan, Basilan.

In a statement released here Wednesday, MILF peace implementing panel chairperson Mohagher Iqbal expressed sadness over the incident.

“No one desired (it) to happen, especially during the implementation of the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) and while the peace process dividends started to be felt by the people,” Iqbal, concurrent education minister of the three-year-old Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said.

“The MILF peace panel calls on the parties’ immediate disengagement to prevent the situation from escalating and to ensure the safety and well-being of Barangay Ulitan’s residents,” he added.

Iqbal urged the parties involved, both from the MILF and the government forces and the ceasefire panels, “to leave no stone unturned and thoroughly investigate the situation to ensure a similar incident will not happen again.”

Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway, head of Task Force Basilan, earlier said the Army did not fire the first shot.

Fighting broke out between MILF 114th base command and the 64th Infantry Battalion on Tuesday when a soldier stationed at a detachment in Barangay Ulitan was slightly bruised by sniper fire from an area occupied by MILF members and lawless elements.

Gobway, commander of the 101st Infantry Brigade, said at least five soldiers were wounded in action.

He said the fighting erupted when the MILF fired at soldiers checking on the presence of Abu Sayyaf in the MILF camp.

He said the lawless elements, who were manufacturing improvised bombs used against the Army in Basilan, were allegedly coddled by the MILF in the area.

Gobway said Barangay Ulitan residents have fled to safer grounds. (PNA)