Eight people, including two soldiers, got killed as government troops clashed with “lawless elements” believed to be hiding among Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Payao, Zamboanga Sibugay, on Monday.

In a press briefing Monday evening, Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Oban vowed that troops will “pursue the lawless elements wherever they may hide” and “treat those who will support them similarly.”

Two were killed and four were wounded on the government side while the enemy suffered at least six killed and about 40 wounded in the fighting in Payao, AFP Western Mindanao Command spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said by phone.

Some 200 soldiers, backed by OV-10 bombers, artillery fire, and tanks, carried out the assault at Sitio Taib, Brgy. Labatan, starting Monday morning, with an aim at arresting Waning Abdusalam, leader of a kidnapping group, Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said.

Naval assets and personnel were also stationed off Payao to support the ground troops, Oban said.

Two air strikes were launched at 11 a.m. and 11:40 before the ground troops attacked the bandits’ lair, Cabangbang said.

“Malakas ‘yung ground fire (ng kalaban) kaya tumawag ng isa pang (air) sortie around 4:30 p.m.,” he said.

Operations in Payao were intensified after the MILF, who claimed that they were being attacked by troops hunting Abdusalam, killed eight soldiers and policemen in two ambuscades in Alicia and Kabasalan towns on Thursday. (John Roson)

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