Clashes between soldiers and militant groups kill 26 in Basilan.
Thirteen of the army's special forces, including three officers, were killed in the six-hour clash between government soldiers and suspected members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf group, at Bakisung Cambug village, Albarka town.
Six other soldiers, who were reported to have been held hostage by rebel bandits, were found dead near the site of the clash yesterday, Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang, spokesman of the Western Mindanao Command, said in a TV interview.
The names of the dead soldiers were not released.
"Before their names are released, the relatives of the slain soldiers will be notified about the tragic incident," explained Cabangbang.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police headquarters in Manila identified the seven MILF rebels who were killed in the same clash as Ustadz Munip Habibun, Manap Limaya, JJ Rick, Kaharut Abdusal, Baddi, Sibin and Marijul.
Strayed into clash
MILF spokesman Von Al Haq insisted only five MILF members were killed, adding the fighting occurred after government troops strayed into MILF territory during a clash with another group. A dozen other soldiers were injured. Two of them sustained gunshot wounds in the face and were brought to a city hospital for treatment, said Cabangbang.
Earlier, Cabangbang identified the leader of the MILF group that clashed with the government soldiers as Dan Laksaw Asnawi, head of the MILF's 114th Base Command.
He was one of 30 who beheaded 14 Marines in Albarka town in 2007. He and 30 others escaped from the Basilan Provincial Jail on December 30, 2009.
But yesterday, Cabangbang said government soldiers had clashed with members of the Abu Sayyaf, led by Long Malat, adding: "He is not a member of the MILF. He is just a bandit."
Members of the MILF joined in the clash between the government and the Abu Sayyaf because some of their relatives were caught in the crossfire, Cabangbang said.
He added: "The MILF joined [in the clash], not because they have something against our soldiers, but they wanted to help their relatives."
The clash occurred four kilometres away from the MILF territory. The MILF can't blame the government for violating the ceasefire agreement since the clash involved an Abu Sayyaf group, Cabangbang added.
Fear of violence
"Government troops went to Albarka after the military received information from the ground that an armed group [the Abu Sayyaf], possibly with kidnap victims, were there," said Cabangbang.
More than 1,000 residents left their homes during the clash. They were afraid that the tension between the government soldiers, the Milf and the Abu Sayyaf might continue, said Basilan Vice Governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul.
Helping the wounded
Injured soldiers from the Basilan province are assisted by their fellow troopers as they land at the southern port city of Zamboanga on Tuesday.
The military deployed an M520 attack helicopter, an OV10 bomber plane and two Huey helicopters to give support to the ground troops, during the clash, said a spokesperson.
Both the Milf, including its lost command, and the Abu Sayyaf, which has links to the Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian conduit of the Al Qaida terror group, operate in Basilan.
Since 1978, the 12,000-strong Milf has waged armed struggle for the establishment of an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. The Milf was once part of a mainstream Muslim group that waged a separatist war that killed 150,000 in the early 1970s.
The group gave up its secessionist stance and positively responded to the pro-autonomy peace initiative of the Philippine government in 1997.
The government and the Milf signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003.
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