Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Firefight erupts anew in Patikul

From the Manila Standard Today (Feb 7): Firefight erupts anew in Patikul

3 foreign hostages rescued by MNLF

Sporadic fighting broke out on Wednesday in Mt. Sinumaan in Patikul, Sulu as thousands of Muslim rebels pursued hundreds of Abu Sayyaf terrorists that abandoned their mountain stronghold, retreating deep into the jungle with 13 hostages of various nationalities.

By early evening, reports from the combat area said fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rescued three hostages — two Swiss and one Dutch — but Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani was still held by the terrorists.

“The three hostages are now secured in an undisclosed MNLF camp in Sulu,” MNLF spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla said. “The situation in the area is volatile.”

Fontanilla said the number of casualties rose to a total of 31 killed: eight MNLF and 23 Abu Sayyaf; 16 wounded: nine Abu Sayyaf, seven MNLF; and six Abu Sayyaf captured.

He said an undisclosed number of Abu Sayyaf fled to Basilan island and encountered government troops and four soldiers were killed in a gunbattle but no reports of casualties on the side of the terrorists.

About 3,000 MNLF fighters were spread out in the forests of Mt. Sinumaan hunting for 700 Abu Sayyaf terrorists moving in small groups to elude pursuers, said Khaber Sampang, Chief of the MNLF Special Branch Service.

“We will not stop running after them until they finally release their hostages and put a stop in kidnapping people, which not only affected the living conditions of Joloanons, but also created fear among traders,” he said.

At least 22 combatants were killed last Saturday when the MNLF assaulted two Abuy Sayyaf camps in the forest. The MNLF overran the two camps after several hours of fierce fighting, which was ignited by a bungled delivery of P30 million ransoms in exchange for the freedom of kidnapped Jordanian journalist Baker Atyani.

Atyani, who works for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV, and two Filipino camera crew were abducted in June 2012 when they went into the jungle to do a story on the Abu Sayyaf. The Filipinos were released last Saturday, but the Abu Sayyaf held on to Atyani.

Sampang said the Abu Sayyaf camps in Sitio Datag, Patikul were fenced and surrounded by foxholes, where the terrorists took positions during the fighting, but they failed to repel the MNLF attack.

The two camps, called Kan-Tatang and Sangay, about 15 km away from the city, has underground bunkers and barracks and the approach were laden with landmines, according to Sampang.

He said the Abu Sayyaf fighters put up a strong resistance during the attack, but were outgunned by the MNLF, who were armed with caliber 57 anti-tank weapons, 90 recoilless rifles and 81 mortar tubes.

Sampang said the two camps, where the hostages were held for almost a year, were now under the control of the MNLF and tightly guarded to prevent the terrorists from coming back.

He said about 4,000-strong MNLF forces now control the following areas: Jolo, Indanan, Talipao, Parang, Panammao and Panglima Estimo.

Sampang identified the ASG leader as Raddulan Sahiron and the group commanders as Sihata Latih, Muallam Idang Susukan and Imam Hajan.

The hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf, in addition to Atyani, were: Warren Rodwell, an Australian kidnapped in Zamboanga City in December 2011; European birdwatchers Ewold Horn and Lorenzo Vinciguerra; two unidentified Malaysians, an unidentified Japanese; and two unnamed Filipinos.

After a lull in the fighting as both sides buried their dead, the MNLF mobilized thousands of troops for a new assault on the terrorists on Tuesday to get Atyani after the ransom money “disappeared in transit” when three hooded men intercepted and robbed the courier.

“Up to now, we still don’t know what happened to the money,” Sampang said. “We suspect that the armed men (who robbed the courier) belong to the Abu Sayyaf.”

President Aquino has said he did not sanction the MNLF attack and directed the armed forces and the Philippine National Police to prevent the fighting to spillover outside of the Patikul area.

“Our first priority is securing the civilians who might be caught in the conflict areas,” Aquino said.
Sulu police chief Sr. Supt. Antonio Freyra said thousands of residents in the perimeter of Patikul were displaced by the fighting and fled to temporary shelters put up by the government.

Philippine Marines Brigade Commander Col. Orlando de Leon said troops have been deployed in Sulu to contain the violence in the area and insure the safety of residents.

De Leon said wounded combatants, whether MNLF or Abu Sayyaf, brought down from the mountains will be accommodated in hosptials for treatment as mandated by International Humanitarian Law.

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