Saturday, July 28, 2012

Death toll in Basilan clashes rises to 19

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Hostilities in Basilan have already left 19 casualties, including 10 soldiers and nine Abu Sayyaf militants, as government troops continued to pursue the al-Qaeda-linked bandits in the jungles of Sumisip town, the military said. Lt. Col. Randolf Cabangbang, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), said 16 other soldiers and eight militants were wounded in the series of encounters. Cabangbang, however, said the pursuit operation has been hampered by bad weather due to the low pressure area over northern and western Mindanao. He added though that the pursuit operation “will continue to flush them out.” The hostilities erupted in Barangay Cabengbeng at around 7:30 a.m. Thursday, and continued in Barangay Mebak, also in Sumisip town, nearly eight hours later. In the first encounter, Cabangbang said the government troops clashed with at least 50 followers of Wyms Wakil, alias Bacoy, which left eight soldiers dead and six others wounded. Among the slain militants, the military said, were sub-leader Hassan Asnawi and his son Jumaidi, Nurham Asnawi, Juhair Aliman, Kaobut Mastul, Hudjata Marain, Meloy Patpi, and a certain Balong. Cabangbang said Wakil himself was wounded, along with Jarad Marain and Jaz Umangkat, among others. Wakil’s group was responsible for the spate of attacks on rubber plantation workers and soldiers since January, already killing 16 people and wounding 34 others. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin yesterday went to Basilan to assess the situation. AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos Jr. said Dellosa and Gazmin visited the wounded soldiers at the Camp Navarro Hospital here and were given security briefings by officials on the ground. Despite the death of 10 soldiers, the military does not view the Basilan incident as a setback. “Incurring casualties is part and parcel of the discharge of our duties and responsibilities to protect the people. (We will do it) even at the cost of our precious lives,” Burgos said. The Army has released more than P7 million in assistance for the families of the slain soldiers. Meanwhile, some members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were monitored trying to reinforce the armed group involved in the Basilan clashes, said a security official who asked not to be named. The official said followers of fugitive MILF commander Dan Asnawi were sighted coming from the towns of Al-Barka and Ungkaya Pukan. – With Alexis Romero - By Roel Pareño