see update: 8 dead, 11 hurt in fresh attacks; MILF denies involvement

Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) members staged two attacks in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday and Sunday, leaving at least five people killed and eight others injured, military and police officials said.

Rubber tappers of the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Inc. Dev’t. Cooperative (TARBIDC) and some militiamen were ambushed at Sitio Along-Along between Brgys. Upper and Sapah Bulak in Sumisip, Basilan, around 5:30 a.m. Sunday, Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said.

Civilians Renato Aligay, Junrel Langugon, Delord Johnson, Buenaventura Lugamay, and Fernando Tantalo, an “off-duty” Civilian Active Auxiliary (CAA) member, got killed in the attack, Ortiz said in a text message.

Eight others, identified as Alfredo Rojas, Danilo Tonghay, Adzar Madjakin, Abdul Mot, Julibert Dingkong, Francisco Taklindo, and CAA members Gilbert Guevara and Bonifacio Dagodog Jr., were injured, Armed Forces Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said in a separate message.

Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc, said the Army headquarters has recieved information that the fatalities may have risen to six, but is still checking.

The attack was allegedly carried out by some 40 MILF members led by Hassan Asnawi, Ortiz and Cabangbang said.

“Nakasakay sila (rubber tappers and militiamen) sa isang TARBIDC-owned truck nang pagbabarilin nitong mga armado ‘yung sasakyan, that is clearly not a military target,” Cabunoc said.

A company, or about 100 soldiers, of the Scout Rangers have been sent to pursue the ambushers, he said.

“A pursuit was launched because according to the GRP-MILF ceasefire agreement, there is no ‘area of temporary stay’ of the MILF in that place. We call these ambushers bandits,” Cabunoc said.

On Saturday, around 120 “lawless elements” of the MILF stormed a village in Talusan, Zamboanga Sibugay, and occupied a school there after clashing with militiamen, police said.

Director Felicisimo Khu, head of the PNP Directorate for Integrated Police Operations in Western Mindanao, said the lawless elements encountered Civilian Volunteer Organization members (CVO) in Brgy. Samonte around 2:30 p.m.

The armed men occupied the elementary school in the barangay while the CVO members withdrew towards Brgy. Cawilan after seeing they were outnumbered, Khu said in a text message late Saturday.

Chief Supt. Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga Peninsula regional police director, said policemen were sent to the area around 5 p.m. to check on the presence of “alleged MILF lawless elements led by a certain commander Said.”

The group occupied and destroyed some part of the elemementary school, took two large cattle, and other properties of residents there, De Asis said in a text message Sunday, citing field reports.

The armed men later moved towards the boundary of Brgys. Moalboal and Matim and were last monitored to be occupying an abandoned elementary school in Brgy. Bolingan, he said.

Members of the Army’s 10th Infantry Battalion are now in Talusan to help policemen pursue the armed men. “Wala ring ‘area of temporary stay’ ang MILF sa lugar na yan,” Cabunoc said.

The attacks occurred just two days after members of the MILF staged ambuscades that killed five soldiers and three policemen in Zamboanga Sibugay mainland’s Alicia and Kabasalan towns.

The MILF owned up to the earlier attacks, saying these were in retaliation for the ongoing military and police operations against its 113rd Base Command fighters in Payao town.

Military and police officials said the “law enforcement operations” were not aimed at the MILF, but against Waning Abdusalam, the alleged leader of a kidnap-for-ransom group. (John Roson)

see update: 8 dead, 11 hurt in fresh attacks; MILF denies involvement

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