Asia

Philippine mourning for slain police

Philippine President Benigno Aquino gives a message in front of the coffins of police commandos killed in a botched anti-terror operation during a necrological service at the Camp Bagong Diwa, in Manila on January 30, 2015. Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Benigno Aquino has pledged to bring justice to all those that were killed

The Philippines is holding a day of mourning for 44 police commandos killed in a clash with Muslim rebels.

The bodies of those who died were returned to Manila on Thursday. They were honoured on Friday in a ceremony led by President Benigno Aquino.

The violence took place in the southern province of Maguindanao on Sunday.

Police seeking two terror suspects entered a village held by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

MILF signed a peace deal with the government last year to end years of fighting.

But the rebels say police did not liaise with them about the operation as required under the deal, leading to the accidental clash.

'Peace at stake'

On Friday, flags at government offices and military installations are being flown at half-mast to honour those who died.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The families of the officers were each given bravery medals
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption On Thursday the bodies of those who died were returned to the Philippine capital

At the memorial service inside a police camp in the suburbs of Manila, Mr Aquino paid tribute to the fallen officers by offering a prayer at each of their coffins.

He also presented each of their families with a Medal of Valor, the highest military award given by the armed forces.

"I pledge to bring justice to all those who were killed," said Mr Aquino, who faced criticism for not being present when the officers' bodies arrived in the capital

He promised grieving relatives that government forces would make it a top priority to capture suspected bomb expert Abdul Basit Usman.

Usman, who is linked to a MILF splinter group that rejects the peace deal, is one of two suspects that the commandos were targeting during the operation.

The other was Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan, who is a leading figure of Islamist militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)

Police say Marwan was killed, but this has not been confirmed. Both men have been incorrectly reported killed several times.

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On Wednesday, in a televised address to the nation, Mr Aquino said that the peace deal with MILF must not collapse.

"If the peace process were derailed, how many more graves would we have to dig," he said.

The rebels have agreed to end their fight in return for the establishment of an autonomous Muslim region.

Thousands of people have been killed over four decades of separatist fighting in the south of the country.

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