ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 28 Aug) – Philippine soldiers shelled suspected Abu Sayyaf lairs on Tuesday in the hinterlands of Basilan island as the military pressed hard to flush out the militants tied to al-Qaeda terror network.
“Our operation against the Abu Sayyaf is going on and troops shelled suspected lairs of terrorists in the hinterlands,” Colonel Rustico Guerrero, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade in Basilan island told the Mindanao Examiner.
There were no immediate reports of Abu Sayyaf casualties, but Guerrero said the shelling was concentrated in the town of Ungkaya Pukan, where 15 soldiers had died in previous clashes.
Last week, two soldiers were wounded in an Abu Sayyaf ambush on the island, just several nautical miles south of Zamboanga City.
More than two dozen soldiers were also killed fierce clashes in Ungkaya Pukan and Al-Barka towns since last month. And about a dozen casualties from the Abu Sayyaf side.
Troops were pursuing more than 100 Abu Sayyaf gunmen and Moro rebels linked to the killings of the soldiers, ten of whom were beheaded and mutilated.
Social workers said as many as 12,000 people have fled their homes because of the military offensive, although there were no reports of civilian casualties.
The Abu Sayyaf was said to be planning to kidnap journalists and civilians and used them as shield against pursuing government soldiers in Basilan.
President Gloria Arroyo was in Basilan this month and inspected troops fighting the Abu Sayyaf. She ordered the military to crush the Abu Sayyaf so the government can start development projects on the islands.
Security forces were also battling Abu Sayyaf militants in Jolo island, blamed for the killing of more than two dozen soldiers last month.
But while government offensives continue, Arroyo also ordered humanitarian projects on the two islands under the so-called “HELP for Basilan and Sulu Program.”
HELP stands for Health, Education, Livelihood Progress. Arroyo ordered all government agencies to contribute projects to the HELP template.
She pointed out that economic development remains the principal weapon against terrorism and that despite the recent hostilities, Basilan and Sulu are by no means a war zone.
The Commission on Higher Education has already offered additional scholarship slots and the Department of Trade and Industry also launched the “Sulong Sulu, Bangon Basilan” programs.
The government held its licensing examination for teachers in Jolo island and the Philippine Military Academy entrance test Sunday. The teachers' examination was the first-ever held in Jolo while the PMA test was the first to be conducted in 17 years, said the island’s Governor Sakur Tan. (Mindanao Examiner)