Government troops on board a convoy of trucks and armored carriers pass through a crowded village in Indanan town in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, where fighting Wednesday, April 30, 2008 breaks out in the village of Cagay between security and Abu Sayyaf forces, backed by renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front. At least one marine was wounded in the fighting that also left a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and injured. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 30, 2008) – Government forces clashed with militants in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, leaving one soldier wounded and a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and wounded, officials said.
Military choppers fired several rounds of rockets at strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf in the town of Indanan, aimed at weakening the militant group, but renegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front aided the gunmen.
The human rights organization called Suara Bangsamoro said troops also fired canons around a major MNLF base in the village of Cagay, an area controlled by Khaid Ajibun, a senior leader of the former rebel group which signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996.
It said dozens of civilians have fled the village because of the bombings. “At least 28 howitzer canons were fired to that area and after the bombardments ground troops mounted an attack, sparking a firefight,” Amirah Lidasan, the group’s leader told the Mindanao Examiner.
She said seven soldiers were either killed or wounded in the fighting, but the military said only one marine was injured in the clash.
The military said the fighting only involved the Abu Sayyaf and that the operation was aimed to arrest the leaders of the group tied with al-Qaeda and blamed for past bombings and kidnappings for money in the south.
“Troops clashed with the Abu Sayyaf group. The operation began at dawn Wednesday and targeted the lairs of the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya. We have reports the area is being used to manufacture IED (improvised explosive device),” Maj. Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said in a separate interview.
He tagged Abu Pula, alias Doctor Abu, as the leader of the group that soldiers clashed in Indanan town.
“The intelligence-driven operation is aimed to apprehend, neutralize, and bring to justice the remaining leaders and members of the Abu Sayyaf, as well as the Jemaah Islamiya bombers, who forged alliances with the former in the name of terrorism and violence,” Batara said without identifying the Jemaah Islamiya bombers,” he said.
In Sulu, local military chief Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, said the offensive did not target the MNLF. “The operation is not against the Moro National Liberation Front. No way, this operation is meant against the MNLF. They are not our targets. We are primarily after the ASG and the JI,” he said.
“The ultimate reason of this operation is for the people to finally live in safety without the fear that they could be held captive at any time in any place,” Sabban said.
Sabban previously said the Abu Sayyaf is fragmented and is on the run because of sustained military operations in Sulu province. (With a report from Mark Navales)