MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) — The military retracted an earlier statement saying 3 soldiers were killed in Basilan Thursday, September 12, during an encounter between government troops and combined forces of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG).
Lt Col Ramon Zagala, the Armed Forces public information chief, stuck to a previous statement that at least 3 soldiers were wounded. He earlier said 3 died.
Zagala said they’re fixing the report now but that “it appears no one died.”
“What we are trying to do right now is to assess if this incident in Lamitan, Basilan is one way or another connected to the incident in Zamboanga City,” added Armed Forces spokesperson Brig Gen Domingo Tutaan.
The two-hour firefight erupted in Lamitan, Basilan Thursday morning, according to Capt Jefferson Somera, spokesman of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division.
The Lamitan City Hall sounded the alarm at 9:40 am, warning residents that the rebels have entered the city. The alarm was also a signal for residents to evacuate to designated areas.
Somera said the troops engaged 150 rebel forces in Lamitan’s Barangay Colonia. He said the gunmen belonged to the ASG under Furuji Indama and Isnilon Hapilon.
“Firefight lasted for more or less two hours. Three were wounded. It’s undetermined on the enemy side. Wounded personnel were treated at Lamitan City Hospital while civilians were evacuated to safer areas. Pursuit operations is still ongoing,” Somera said.
The Philippine National Police earlier said MNLF members were among the forces in Basilan. This was confirmed by military sources.
“Lawless armed groups, some of which are MNLF coming from Albarka and Moh Adjul attacked government position and Christian villages at the said, area,” reads a situation report from the police. Lamitan Vice Mayor Rod Furigay reported heavy firefight. He said the encounter began at 9:15 am.
MNLF in Tipo-Tipo, too
The firefight in Lamitan happened following a short encounter between soldiers and members of the ASG and MNLF early evening Wednesday, September 11.
Somera said about 50 armed men believed to be members of the ASG and MNLF “harassed” the military’s Valentine Detachment at barangay Magcawa in Tipo-Tipo. Troops responded with “fire mission toward enemy attack position,” he said.
Col Carlito Galvez Jr, commander of 104th Infantry Brigade based in Basilan, told Rappler on Wednesday, September 11, they monitored the massing up of combined forces of the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf Group.
In Zamboanga City, gun shots were also heard Thursday morning, according to Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Lt Col Rodrigo Gregorio. A loud explosion was also monitored Wednesday.
“Theres’ sporadic intermittent gunfight. That includes mortars and grenade launchers,” Gregorio said.
About 200 forces of MNLF founder Nur Misuari are holding about 180 hostages in the coastal towns of Zamboanga City. Gregorio maintained Nur Misuari’s followers are still contained in 5 barangays.
The government has so far confirmed at least 6 were killed in encounters although various reports show there are more. — with reports from Richard Falcatan and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com