07/03/2007, 00.00
PHILIPPINES

MILF stage “strategic” retreat but search for Fr Bossi goes on

A brother priest of Fr Bossi in Zamboanga, the retreat of the Islamic separatists from operations is for “exclusively political” reasons and perhaps “non Islamic”.

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – The guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are conducting a “strategic retreat”, giving up their search for Fr Giancarlo Bossi “for political reasons, certainly not because of anything to do with the kidnapping”. AsiaNews heard this from a brother priest of the missionary, Fr Luciano Benedetti, who has followed developments in the kidnapping of Fr Bossi from the start. Fr Bossi, a priest of the Pontifical Institute of Foreign Missions, was kidnapped on 10 June in Payao in the southern province of Mindanao.

Announcement of the withdrawal, made today by a spokesman for the separatist group, sparked speculation in Italy and in the Philippines that the MILF retreat spelled an end to hopes in the search for Fr Bossi. In reality, said Fr Benedetti, “this retreat has nothing to do with Fr Giancarlo. Rather, it is very likely that the MILF wanted to give way to the Filipino army and navy, which now feel more prepared to manage the matter of the kidnapping.”

The move to retreat is also a “denominational sign: the departure from the scene of Islamic separatists makes one think that the kidnappers of Fr Bossi are not Muslim militants, but rather common bandits in search of money. Another thing that must be considered is that shortly a new anti-terrorism law will be enforced in the country and thus the guerrillas want to avoid direct contact with the army.”

Meanwhile, “there is no real news: searches are continuing in different areas of the province, with special attention focused on Zamboanga Sibugay. In any case, as happened in the kidnapping of Fr Pierantoni [a Dehonian missionary kidnapped in the same province in 2001 and kept hostage for six months], we must prepare ourselves and wait for word from the kidnappers, which may take a long time.”

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