Fighting Erupts In Southern Philippines

December 22, 2007 at 12:43 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Dec. 22, 2007) – Fierce clashes between government soldiers and rebels erupted Saturday in the southern Philippine province of Sulu, leaving a still undetermined number of gunmen dead and wounded, officials said.

Officials said one soldier was killed and another wounded in the fighting that broke out in the village called Pangdan-pangdan in Kalingalan Caluang town.

Four civilians were also wounded in the clash, said Army Major General Reuben Rafael, commander of military forces on the province.

“We still do not know how many rebels were killed or injured, but intercepted radio messages suggested more casualties on the rebel side,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

He said troops clashed with rogue members of the Moro National Liberation Front, backed by Abu Sayyaf militants, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya terror network.

The fighting lasted for several hours with government planes bombing rebel positions in the town’s hinterland. But clashes on the ground were much more difficult as rebels fleeing pursuing soldiers snatched villagers and used them as shield.

It was unknown whether some villagers were abducted by retreating rebels, but General Rafael has confirmed that four civilians were shot and wounded by gunmen as they escaped.

The four civilians, he said, were rushed to a military hospital after soldiers rescued them during a running gun battle.

Soldiers recovered seven automatic rifles and ammunition in the village left behind by rebels under Commanders Opagu and Alawi, whose first names were not immediately known, but both were sub-leaders of the MNLF renegade faction and Abu Sayyaf.

Sulu Governor Sakur Tan has ordered policemen and soldiers to secure the villagers and bring them to safer areas far from the fighting.

Fighting also erupted last month in Kalingalan Caluang that left 8 soldiers and four rebels dead.
The Abu Sayyaf have been blamed for past attacks and kidnappings-for-money in the southern Philippines, while the MNLF signed a peace deal with Manila in 1996, but many were disgruntled with the accord and joined other rebel groups.

The MNLF has repeatedly accused the government of reneging on the agreement, which Manila strongly denied. Under the peace deal, the Philippine would have provided a mini-Marshall plan and livelihoods and housing to tens of thousands of rebels.

In 2001, MNLF gunmen, who were loyal supporters of Nur Misuari, attacked and tried to capture a major military base in Sulu province and another group seized more than 100 people in Zamboanga City.

After the attacks, MNLF chieftain Nur Misuari fled to Sabah by boat, but was captured by Malaysian authorities and eventually deported to the Philippines. (With a report from Nickee Butlangan)

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