Basilan new battle area; govt issues ultimatum
The terrorist group Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters rebels had reportedly joined forces with the Nur Misuari-led Moro National Liberation Front against government troops, as fighting spread from Zamboanga City to Basilan on the fourth day of the standoff on Thursday.
The new development has prompted Malacanang to issue an ultimatum to Nur Misuari and his men to end the standoff or face the full “force of the state.”
Engagement. Soldiers take cover during heavy fighting with MNLF rebels as the standoff entered its fourth day in Zamboanga City. Below, members of the National Police’s special forces move forward to enemy positions among burning houses.
“The forces of the state are ready to exercise the resolve of the government. While the government is exhausting all avenues for a peaceful resolution to the situation, let it be clear to those defying us that they should not entertain the illusion that the state will hesitate to use its forces to protect our people,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“Instead, it is time for you to cooperate to resolve this situation peacefully at the soonest possible time,” he added.
Laciera said, however, that there was no deadline yet on when the government would order a “military strike.”
“We assess the situation on a day to day basis. That is an option that we are...We are exploring all options.”
Lacierda’s statement came in the wake of reports that a combined MNLF-BIFF-ASG force of 150 armed men engaged government troops in a two-hour gunfight in Lamitan, Basilan, the first instance of a spillover of the Zamboanga attacks.
The gunfight left four dead and 11 wounded.
Col. Charlie Galvez, commander of the 104th Infantry Brigade, said the fatalities include a member of the Civilian Volunteer Organization and two soldiers. Two other CVO members were wounded.
Galvez added that three rebels were killed, and seven were wounded, based on reports by civilians who saw the enemy casualties.
Lacierda also warned the BIFF and the ASG for “taking advantage” of the standoff in Zamboanga City to further their own interests.
“The BIFF and ASG assumed they could take advantage of the situation. They were wrong. As others who will also make similar attempts will be proven wrong,” he said.
The military identified the leaders of the Lamitan attack as ASG commanders Furuji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon and BIFF commanders Basir Kasaran and Nurhassan Jamiri.
ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman later confirmed the report in a radio interview, saying that the group that clashed with army rangers were members of the MNLF, BIFF and the ASG.
Aside from the Lamitan attack, some 50 armed men believed to be members of the MNLF and the ASG engaged soliders in a firefight Thursday morning in the town of Tipo-Tipo also in Basilan.
Lacierda assured the people of Zamboanga City that even as the standoff has dragged on for four days now, the government is working to ensure that their needs are met.
“The President has directed national government agencies to attend to the needs of the people of Zamboanga City and the BASULTA (Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi) by providing basic supplies,” he said.
Another Palace official, meanwhile, insisted that the attacks in Zamboanga were ordered by Misuari, despite Misuari’s denial that he did not authorize the attack.
“What we believe is that his faction, his group is behind it. The people who seem to be behind this action are clearly doing it at the behest of or are clearly there and identified with the Misuari faction” Carandang said.
Zamboanga City Mayor Isabel Climaco-Salazar said she spoke with Misuari Wednesday evening and “he disowned the actions of (MNLF commander) Habier Malik.
“Last night (Wednesday evening) I was able to talk to Chairman Nur Misuari hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis. What is of interest is that, Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers with whom I communicated separately,” Salazar said.
“I expressed my openness to continue communication with Misuari as well (as) Malik to find peaceful resolution of this conflict,” she added.
Malik, a top aide of Misuari, has outstanding arrest warrants frustrated murder, murder and attempted murder.
Carandang said the Department of Justice is now studying the possibility of filing cases not only against Misuari but also against MNLF spokesmen Absalom Cerveza and Emmanuel Fontanilla.
Meanwhile, Carandang said there is no plan for President Benigno Aquino III to go to Zamboanga soon, contrary to reports that came out in the papers.
In Zamboanga City, a fire broke out in Bgy. Sta. Catalina, one of the five barangays where the MNLF rebels had occupied since Monday.
The fire, of still undetermined origin broke out at around 3:20 pm and gutted the motor pool of the nearby Marine Science Technology and several houses. It was put off after an hour.
The military later said it arrested five MNLF rebels in Bgy. Casangyangan, which is block away from Brgy Sta Catalina.
The rebels were caught by pursuing soldiers who were trying to break the rebels’ position at a row of buildings in Sta. Catalina where dozens of residents were held hostage.
A caliber .45 pistol was recovered from the five rebels whose identities were withheld by officials.
In Basilan, Provincial Police Director Senior Superintendent Mario Dapilloza said the firefight at Bgy. Campo Uno started at around 9 a.m., between Army Scout Rangers and an undetermined number of MNLF rebels.
In Tipo-Tipo, soldiers also encountered a group of 50 armed men believed to be ASG and BIFF rebels, who reportedly attacked a military detachment in Brgy Magcawa.
Capt. Jefferson Somera, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division said soldiers stationed at Sitio Camalig, Bohe Paho, Ungkaya-Pukan town provided support to the Army detachment at Tipo-Tipo at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday.
Meanwhile, at a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., said their forces in Mindanao are ready to repel sympathy attacks in areas where the rebels, including ASG bandits and BIFF forces, are active.
Salazar, meanwhile, said that the number of evacuees has already swelled to more than 15,000 after fresh fighting occurred in Barbara and Sta. Catalina early Thursday. With Florante Solmerin and Francisco Tuyay, PNA and AFP