RP Troops Pursue Sayyaf Militants In Basilan Island

August 7, 2007 at 8:24 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coconut farmers sitting on top of bags of copra look at a government soldier patrolling the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where security forces clashed with Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for the beheading of ten of 14 Marines in Al-Barka town on July 10. Troops are backing police forces in the hunt for more than 130 Moro rebels implicated in the grisly killings. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)

BASILAN, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 07 Aug) – Marines on Tuesday were pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda after a firefight in the southern Filipino island of Basilan.

More than 3,000 soldiers are on the island, a known stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, to pursue about 130 Moro rebels charged for beheading ten of 14 Marines killed in fierce clashes July 10 in Al-Barka, a mountain town southeast of Basilan.

Officials said Tuesday’s operation yielded negative results, but troops continue searching for gunmen in Basilan’s treacherous jungle terrain.

Government soldiers clashed Monday with some 50 Abu Sayyaf fighters, backed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels, said Joel Maturan, the mayor of Ungkaya Pukan.

Security officials said the fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Sungkayat in Ungkaya Pukan town after marine soldiers attacked the hideout of the militant group.

But the mayor said gunmen attacked the soldiers, sparking a 15-minute firefight.

“Patrolling soldiers were harassed by the Abu Sayyaf and MILF rebels, about 50 of them. There were no reports of casualties,” he said.

The military said troops clashed with the group of Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Indama Puruji, who was implicated in the beheading of the soldiers.

The MILF, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf as behind the gruesome killings.

Police filed murder charges against 130 mostly MILF rebels and the military threatened to launch punitive action if the group do not surrender the murders.

Social welfare officials said more than 6,900 villagers have fled their homes since last month for fear they would be trapped if fighting erupts in Basilan island.

Many of those who fled have sought refuge from relatives, but local politicians insist they were refugees and asked Manila for funds to help them feed the evacuees.

Defense officials on Monday met behind closed door with the mayors and governors of Basilan and Jolo islands inside a military base in Zamboanga City to plan about helping those who fled their villages.

President Gloria Arroyo on Monday also sent a team of medical doctors to Basilan island to help the evacuees, but warned rebels not to harm them.

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in the troubled, but mineral-rich region of Mindanao. (Mindanao Examiner)

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