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MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Philippine National Police recovered 49 bodies of slain members of the Special Action Force (SAF) in Maguindanao, according to the regional police headquarters of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
In a text message sent to reporters Monday, January 26, the operations center of the PNP-ARMM said that as of 11:54 am on Monday, the “actual body count of PNP SAF [killed] is 49.”
The report added: “The cadavers were brought to 6th ID, PA headquarters, for proper disposition,” referring to the headquarters of the Army’s 6th infantry division in Cotabato City.
Military sources said that 10 more SAF members were reported missing and that at least one civilian was killed.
In a press conference in Maguindanao at 3:30 pm Monday, Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said at least 43 SAF members were killed based on official reports.
American soldiers based in Cotabato under a Philippine-US defense agreement assisted Philippine troops in carrying the dead and the wounded.
The Sunday, January 25, clashes in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao, tested a nearly one-year-old peace accord between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). An MILF spokesman earlier said they suffered 5 casualties.
The SAF’s target was alleged Malaysian bomb maker Zulkifli Abdhir, better known as “Marwan,” who survived a 2012 military airstrike that was meant to kill him in Sulu. (READ: Dead or alive? Top terrorist was cops’ target)
But Mamasapano is an MILF bailiwick, and the MILF said the SAF attacked the area without coordinating with them.
It is the first major encounter between the MILF and government troops since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro last year. Advocates are hoping that the incident will not affect the talks.
The cops sought reinforcement but the military did not get involved, based on reports, until it had coordinated with the Coordinating Committee on Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Adhoc Joint Action Group (AHJAG). These are the bodies that help maintain the ceasefire between the government and the MILF.
The MILF area is also difficult to penetrate. It is a marshy area that is about 15 kilometers away from the highway.
The carnage happened on the eve of the 24th founding anniversary of the PNP on Monday. – with reports from Karlos Manlupig and Carmela Fonbuena/Rappler.com