7 Civilians Among Dead In Sulu Clash

February 5, 2008 at 10:59 am | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment

SULU, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Feb. 05, 2008) – The Philippine military on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the killing of 8 people in fierce clashes between security forces and Abu Sayyaf militants in Sulu province.
Seven of those killed in the town of Maimbung were civilians — three adults, two children and two teenagers — and an army soldier who was on a break.

Security officials said troops, tracking down a kidnapped trader Rosalie Lao, clashed at dawn Monday with Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya militants in the village of Ipil where the eight bodies had been found later in the day.

Maj. Gen. Ruben Rafael, commander of an anti-terror task force in Sulu province, said two soldiers and three militants, including an Abu Sayyaf sub-leader Abu Muktadil, were killed in the fighting.

“It was a legitimate encounter. As far as we are concerned, troops clashed with the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiya. We have recovered the bodies of Muktadil, but soldiers also found eight more bodies in the area and we are trying to find out whether they were caught in the cross-fire or slain by terrorists,” he told the Mindanao Examiner.

But a village leader Rahsi Agas accused troops of killing the civilians. “They were just seaweed farmers and not members of the Abu Sayyaf,” he said in a separate interview.

He said some of those killed were shot at sea while escaping the fighting on boat.

Among those killed were Marisa Payian, 4; Wedme Lahim, 9; Alnalyn Lahim, 15; Sulayman Hakob, 17; Kirah Lahim, 45; Eldisim Lahim, 43; Narcia Abon, 24; all civilians and Pfc. Ibnul Wahid, of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.

Provincial government officials, led by Gov. Sakur Tan, has condemned the killings and urged the military to investigate and file charges against those involved in the attack on the civilians. “We not only condemn the killings of innocent civilians, but criminal charges should be filed against the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” he said.

Army Maj. Eugene Batara, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command, said they were investigating reports the killings were triggered by a family feud.

“There was fighting between two warring families in the area and the encounter and exchange of fires could have triggered the volatile situation between the families.”

“The encounter and the killing of civilians may have been two different incidents taking place simultaneously,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command, flew to Sulu province on Tuesday to investigate the incident, Batara said.It was not immediately known whether the 45-year old trader is being held in Maimbung town. Lao, who buys and sells Malaysian goods, was kidnapped Jan. 28 outside her home in Jolo town.

The fighting erupted barely a week before US and Philippine troops are to begin joint humanitarian and medical missions in Sulu, about 950 kilometers south of Manila, as part of the Balikatan, which means “shoulder-to-shoulder”, the codename for the annual joint anti-terror training.

Filipino authorities previously said that as many as 40 Indonesian militants are hiding in Sulu and being protected by the Abu Sayyaf and among them are Dulmatin and Umar Patek, who masterminded the 2002 Bali attacks that killed 202 people. (With a report from Nickee Butlangan)

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