Soldiers wounded in fierce clashes in Basilan province in the southern Philippines arrive in Zamboanga City in Mindanao in these photos released by the military to journalists. Officials say 12 soldiers were killed and 11 others wounded, and 10 more are missing in the fighting in Al-Barka town.
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 18, 2011) – Muslim rebels clashed with security forces on Tuesday, killing at least 12 soldiers and wounding 11 more in the southern Philippine province of Basilan, officials said.
Officials said 10 soldiers were also missing in Basilan, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. Photos released by the military to journalists showed the wounded soldiers being transported to the hospital in Zamboanga City.
Army Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said troops were patrolling the town after civilians reported the presence of gunmen when they came under fire.
“We are reacting to reports by civilians about the presence of armed men in the area. Troops came under fire,” Cabangbang told the Mindanao Examiner.
He said the gunmen were headed by Dan Asnawi, who escaped from the Basilan provincial jail in December 30, 2009. Asnawi was also involved in the killings and beheadings of 14 Marines in Al-Barka town in 2007.
But the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front said troops encroached inside its territory which triggered the fighting. It also accused the military of violating a fragile truce after government soldiers stormed a guerilla base in the town.
“Government troops stormed our territory and a firefight ensued. The military violated the cease-fire agreement,” Von al-Haq, a spokesman for the MILF, said in a separate interview.
He said rebel forces led by Asnawi were only defending their territory from the attack.
Cabangbang denied MILF allegations that troops strayed into a rebel territory. “There is no MILF territory in Basilan. They murdered our soldiers,” he said.
The MILF is currently negotiating peace with Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)