Thursday, October 01, 2009

4 dead in fresh fighting in Southern Philippines

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / October 1, 2009) – Fierce fighting between government troops and Moro rebels broke out on Thursday in the southern Philippine island of Sulu killing at least four people on both sides, officials said.

Officials said the fighting erupted at around 11 a.m. in the village of Bitan-ag in Panamao town. One soldier was killed and nine more were wounded in the clashes, said Marine Major General Benjamin Dolorfino, chief of the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City.

“One of our soldiers was killed and nine others are wounded in the fighting. Three gunmen were also slain and troops recovered the bodies,” he said.

Other reports in Sulu said the fighting broke out after Moro National Liberation Front rebels ambushed the soldiers and that at least 9 gunmen were slain in the ensuing firefight.

Dolorfino said troops recovered a 90mm recoilless rifle and four munitions, an M16 and AK-47 automatic rifles, including an M1 sniper rifle.

The fighting erupted two days after Abu Sayyaf militants and Moro rebels destroyed a bridge in the town of Indanan, scene of previous clashes that killed 42 gunmen and soldiers.

Last month, Abu Sayyaf gunmen also ambushed a US military convoy, killing two counterterrorism specialists SSG Jack Martin and SFC Christopher Shaw, and a Filipino marine PFC Erwin Estrada – in Kagay village also in the town of Indanan.

A police post was also bomb on Tuesday morning in the village of Kasanyangan in Jolo town, but there were no reports of casualties.

US troops are deployed in Sulu since 2006 and assisting the Philippine military in defeating the Abu Sayyaf. Although security officials deny US forces were directly involved in combat operations, there were numerous reports from civilians that American soldiers actually participated in the operations aimed at capturing or killing militant leaders in Sulu and other areas in the restive southern region of Mindanao.

A US soldier was also killed and another wounded in a bomb attack at a roadside cafe near an army in Zamboanga City in October 2002.

The MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996, but many of its members were disgruntled with the accord and accused the government of failing to uplift their living standards.

Dolorfino said troops were tracking down at least four most senior Abu Sayyaf leaders – Dr Abu, Albader Parad, Isnilon Hapilon and Yasser Igasan – including two foreign Jemaah Islamiya terrorists Mauiya and Quayem and some 200 followers.

The series of attacks occurred just as troops continue their operation against the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants tagged as behind the series of bomb attacks and kidnappings for ransom in Sulu, one of five provinces under the troubled Muslim autonomous region.

Madarang Sali, deputy supreme commander of the Bangsamoro National Liberation Front, said military offensive against the MNLF continues in Sulu. He said government operations were directed as MNLF leader Khaid Ajibunm who had escaped a military raid last week. (Mindanao Examiner)

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