Monday, February 4, 2013

22 dead in MNLF-Abu Sayyaf clash after release of two captives — military

From GMANews (Feb 4): 22 dead in MNLF-Abu Sayyaf clash after release of two captives — military

(Updated 3:59 p.m.) More than 20 combatants were killed in a clash between Abu Sayyaf and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members in the hinterlands of Sulu province following the release of a kidnapped TV crew, military and police officials said Monday.

Col. Orlando de Leon, commander of the Sulu-based 2nd Marine Brigade, said that according to civilian sources, at least 22 fatalities — 14 from the Abu Sayyaf and eight from the MNLF — have been recorded so far from Sunday's gunbattle.

“Unverified reports indicated that both sides suffered casualties. On the side of the MNLF, reports that reached us show that eight died on their side. On the Abu Sayyaf, more or less 14 died on their side,” he said.

In an interview on GMA News TV Live, Sulu Police director Senior Superintendent Antonio Freyra, said: "Ngayon po, tumatakbo pa rin ang mga figure na 'yan. Maaaring tumaas pa 'yan."

The clash occurred after the release of two Filipinos on Saturday, more than six months after they were abducted with a Jordanian journalist. Ramil Vela and Buboy Letriro had been kidnapped on June 12, 2012 with Jordanian TV reporter Baker Atyani of the Al Arabiya news channel. The whereabouts of Atyani remain unknown.

Fighting between the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf broke out around 8 a.m. Sunday and lasted until 11 a.m. at the boundary of Kabuntakas and Buhanginan villages in Patikul town, the military said.

Four beheaded

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said four of the fatalities from the MNLF were beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf.

"One of the casualties was identified as Wahab Omar and four of those killed MNLF members were beheaded while four firearms were recovered by the ASG (Abu Sayyaf Group),” he said in a statement.

The MNLF had been in the area since January 14, negotiating for the release of the hostages, Freyra said. However, the Abu Sayyaf did not want to release the hostages without a ransom.

"Nagkatagalan, nagpatuloy 'yung standoff sa magkabilang grupo," Freyra added.

When the hostages were released on Saturday, the two groups came within "seeing distance" of each other, he said.

"Talagang nagkaroon ng viewing o seeing distance na maaaring nag-ignite kung bakit sila nagkaputukan. So na-trigger siguro po ng tension sa katagal nilang pag-istambay sa lugar na 'yun kaya nagpalitan ng putukan," Freyra said.

Kidnapped foreigners still missing

Apart from the Jordanian journalist, security officials said the Abu Sayyaf is still holding a number of hostages in Sulu including Dutchman Elwold Horn and Swiss national Lorenzo Vinciguerra, who were snatched while bird-watching in Tawi-tawi in February last year, and Japanese treasure hunter Katayama Mamaito, who was kidnapped in July 2010 in Sulu.

Some 250 Abu Sayyaf men and 300 MNLF members were involved in the clash that stemmed from the Abu Sayyaf's refusal to heed the MNLF's appeal for the bandit group to stop its kidnapping activities, De Leon said.

Burgos said the military deployed troops from 2nd Marine Brigade to avert more violence.

“The AFP through the 2nd Marine Brigade, and PNP (Philippine National Police) units have prevented a spillover of the armed clash,” Burgos said. “The situation is now under control.”

Some 60 families were displaced due to the firefight and are now in the care of the municipal government and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, he said.

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