New RP Defense Chief Visits Troops In Frontlines Of War In Volatile South

August 12, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Philippines Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro arrives in Zamboanga City and is escorted by Western Mindanao military commander Lt. Gen. Eugenio Cedo. Teodoro is accompanied by Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and inspected troops in Jolo and Basilan islands and visited wounded soldiers in Zamboanga City. Esperon has odered troops to intensify the hunt for terrorists in the troubled southern region. (Mindanao Examiner Photo Service)


ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / 12 Aug) – New Philippines Defense chief Gilbert Teodoro inspected troops Sunday in two southern islands where security forces are battling Abu Sayyaf militants tied to al-Qaeda, blamed for the killing of dozens of soldiers.

Teodoro, who assumed his post on Wednesday, flew to Jolo island with Armed Forces chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon and several army generals on a military transport plane.

They were briefed by local military commanders about the progress of government offensives against the terrorists in Jolo, about 950 kilometers south of Manila.

Hundreds of U.S. troops are also stationed on the island and helping Filipino forces defeat terrorism.

Teodoro spoke briefly with soldiers. About 5,000 troops are in Jolo and hunting down hundreds of militants and Moro National Liberation Front rebels, blamed for the killing of 26 army soldiers in fierce clashes since Wednesday.

From Jolo island, the group flew by choppers to nearby island of Basilan, where some 4,000 are also pursuing a faction of the Abu Sayyaf and members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, implicated in the beheading of ten of 14 Marines in daylong clashes July 10.

Marines Col. Ramiro Alivio, the island’s military chief, also briefed Teodoro’s group about the hunt for some 130 mostly MILF rebels and Abu Sayyaf militants tagged as behind the grisly killing.

Esperon has ordered troops to intensify their hunt for the terrorists and their allies in the two islands.

“There will be no letup in the pursuit operations. The hunt for the terrorists and their allies will continue until they are neutralized,” he told the Mindanao Examiner in Zamboanga City, where they visited and pinned medals to more than a dozen wounded soldiers.

After visiting the soldiers at a military hospital, Esperon and Teodoro comforted family members and relatives of slain soldiers whose flag-draped caskets were flown to Manila late Sunday afternoon.

The fighting in Jolo and Basilan has already displaced more than 20,000 people and is also threatening the government peace talks with the MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group.

The MILF denied beheading the soldiers and pointed to the Abu Sayyaf instead, although it admitted killing the Marines in fierce clashes after they entered a rebel stronghold in Al-Barka town.

Esperon said talks are underway to prevent further involvement of the MILF rebels in the ongoing punitive actions in Basilan island.

“There are ongoing talks about that, to put the MILF in one place,” he said.

President Gloria Arroyo has earlier ordered the military to pursue offensive operation against those behind the killing of the soldiers in Basilan and Jolo island.

“The military offensive against the Abu Sayyaf must continue, not as an act of vengeance but as a strategy to win the peace,” Arroyo said. “We cannot allow terrorists to hold the South hostage to their agenda of mayhem and blood sport.”

She also ordered Lt. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, the chief of the army, to lead the operation in the volatile region. Tolentino arrived in Zamboanga City on Sunday.

”I expect General Tolentino, considered as a soldier’s soldier, not just to orchestrate punitive actions against those who wantonly maim and kill, but also to evaluate peaceful overtures of those who will demonstrate remorse,” Arroyo said.

Arroyo commended the bravery of the soldiers “even as we grieve for those who offered their lives in the line of duty, while pursuing our quest for peace and justice.”

”There can be no letup in our fight against terror. The Abu Sayyaf deserves condemnation for its acts of violence that have stalled peace and progress in the southern Philippines.” (Mindanao Examiner)


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