General Raymundo Ferrer. (Mindanao Examiner Photo)
ZAMBOANGA SIBUGAY (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 27, 2011) – Philippine troops have occupied a Muslim rebel base in the southern province of Zamboanga Sibugay following days of intense fighting that killed and wounded dozens from both sides, officials told the Mindanao Examiner on Thursday.
Officials said soldiers have recovered an M60 machine gun left behind by rebels under Wanning Abdusalam, who was tagged as behind the spate of kidnappings and terrorism in Mindanao Island.
But there was no sign of Abdusalam or his group, although military commanders on Thursday insisted that the rebel leader had been wounded in the fighting with security forces.
General Raymundo Ferrer, commander of military forces in Mindanao, said they have destroyed Abdusalam’s base after inspecting the area on Thursday.
Soldiers were also searching for arms cache which was reported hidden by rebels in the town’s marshlands during their escape.
“We have occupied Waning Abdusalam’s fortified structures and our focus right now is clearing the area of unexploded mines and searching the mangrove where it is reported that they hastily dumped their firearms. Efforts are also being exerted to locate the wounded criminals who may have slipped the cordon during the night,” he said.
Abdusalam, a leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is currently negotiating peace with Manila, was disowned by his own group on Tuesday following deadly air strikes by military forces on a guerilla base on a remote village called Labatan in Payao town.
Ferrer said army troops were combing the rebel base for mines and other explosives planted by rebels and that a grave site was discovered on Thursday where bodies of 15 rebels had been buried.
The military earlier said that two soldiers and six rebels were killed in the clashes and 40 MILF gunmen and four army troopers were also wounded in three days of fighting in the area.
There were no reports about Abdusalam but other security officials said he could still be in the town.
“We could not move freely (in the camp) since our EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal team) has to mark first the safe areas where we can pass through. The area is so defensible and lined with mines that you have to admire the ground troops for their steadfast determination to regain the territory from the lawless group.”
“The safe haven of kidnapping operations and terroristic activities in Zamboanga Sibugay has fallen. We have reestablish our authority in this part of Payao, and we owe it to the joint forces – our army, air force, navy and the police – who fought long and hard,” he said.
The MILF protested the government attacks on its camp and accused the military of violating a fragile truce. The rebel group maintains that government offensives in Payao town were directed at the MILF following air strikes by the military on the 113th Base Command of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces. The fighting forced thousands of villagers to flee their homes to safety for fear they would be caught up in the crossfire or held hostage.
The military also blamed the rebels for the spate of attacks in Zamboanga Sibugay last week that left 8 soldiers and policemen dead. And 19 soldiers were also slain by the MILF fighters in fierce battle recently in Basilan province after troops were sent on a test mission to a rebel stronghold in the town of Al-Barka to arrest a rebel leader Dan Asnawi who is accused as behind the series of kidnappings for ransom. (Mindanao Examiner)