Suspected Abu Sayyaf members killed three soldiers in an ambush in Basilan, Saturday afternoon, a military spokesman said.

The attack, which came ahead of Monday’s formal signing of the framework agreement between the government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is perceived as a way of “agitating” troops before the peace deal is sealed, Capt. Alberto Caber, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, said.

The three soldiers, whose names are still being withheld, are intelligence personnel of the 32nd Infantry Battalion’s Alpha Company, he said.

Caber said the three were riding two motorcycles along the Basilan circumferential road Brgy. Baas, Lamitan City, around 4:15 p.m. when they were fired upon.

The soldiers had just left their detachment in Sitio Mellec, Brgy. Bohebessey, to buy food in the city proper when four men on two other motorcycles tailed and fired caliber-.45 pistols at them.

Civilians brought the troopers to the St. Peter Hospital, but all three expired along the way, Caber said.

Bandits agitating troops?

“Sa assessment ko lang, parang ina-agitate yung AFP… ang pangyayari ay parang ini-invite sa trouble ang AFP, para siguro hindi matuloy ang signing [ng framework agreement],” Caber said in a phone interview.

He noted that in previous encounters, Abu Sayyaf members hid near MILF-occupied areas after clashing with the military to draw pursuing troops into the rebel group’s territory and force a battle between the two.

“May mga Abu Sayyaf na nagpupunta sa MILF areas para magtago, pagka mayroong mga giyera dito sa Lamitan, Sumisip, pumupunta sila sa may bandang Al Barka,” Caber said.

Abu Sayyaf members may be concerned with the signing of the framework agreement, under which the MILF will help government troops pursue the bandits, he said.

Lt. Col. Johnson Jemar Aseron, commander of the 32nd IB, has ordered some of his troops to help Lamitan City police pursue those involved in the ambush and conduct an investigation.

Caber assured that these moves will not affect the signing of the framework agreement.

“Kami dito sa ground, ang tropa, as much as possible [ay nag-iimplement ng] maximum tolerance, at saka kung ano ‘yung intent ng taas ay kailangan i-implement dito sa baba… wala tayong mga hakbang dito na makakasira sa peace negotiations,” he said. (John Roson)

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