The Army admitted conducting “combat operations” in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, but denied allegations that mortar and bombs were dropped there Saturday forcing civilians to flee.

“Tuloy pa rin ang combat operations, ang pakay ay ‘yung grupo ng mga kidnaper sa area at hindi ang MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front)… Wala pong shelling na naganap ngayong araw,” acting Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said in a phone interview.

Cabunoc made the remarks when asked on a report posted at the MILF website www.luwaran.com that “scores” of ammunition from 105-millimeter howitzers and a Naval vessel of the AFP were fired at forces of the MILF’s 113th Base Command in Sitio Talaib, Brgy. Labatan, as early as 5 a.m.

“Forces of the 113th Base Command BIAF-MILF were praying Subuh, early morning prayer for the Muslims, when the heavy bombardment started toward them,” the report said.

The military’s OV-10 bomber planes also dropped “at least two dozen” bombs in Labatan on Friday, forcing more than 3,000 civilians to flee, according to the MILF website.

Cabunoc, however, said there were no such activities as the ground troops’ artillery officer 1Lt. Wilfredo Ancog was already dead.

5th Army lieutenant dead

Ancog, assigned with the 9th Field Artillery Battalion, died in the hospital Friday after getting seriously injured in an ambush by MILF forces in Alicia town on Thursday night, according to the Army spokesman.

Ancog’s death brought the number of fatalities in the ambuscades in Alicia and Kabasalan to eight.

He was the fifth Army lieutenant killed after 1lts. Colt Alsiyao, Frank Junder Caminos, Vladimir Maninang, and 2lt. Jose Delfine Khe died along with 15 other soldiers in a clash with MILF forces in Al Barkah, Basilan, two days earlier.

Not an ‘MILF area’

Meanwhile, Cabunoc said that as far as the ceasefire rules are concerned, Sitio Talaib, Brgy. Labatan, is not recognized as an “area of temporary stay” (ATS) of the MILF.

“Ang mayroon doon ay yung mga pusakal at pirata na pinangungunahan ni Waning Abusalam, sila ang hinahabol, hindi sila MILF, ang ATS ng MILF ay nandoon sa Tungawan,” he said.

“Sila (MILF) pa nga ang masasabi nating nag-violate ng ceasefire dahil dun sa mga ambush noong isang gabi, lumabas sila ng kampo at pinaputukan ang mga tropa natin,” Cabunoc added. (John Roson)

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