Casualties mount in Mindanao clash

HOSTILITIES again flared in Central Mindanao on Thursday following a running gun battle between security forces and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that caused scores of casualties on both sides, an official said Thursday.

The battle between Army contingents and two base commands of the MILF on the outskirts of Shariff Saydona raged despite the intervention of the Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities, said Col. Cirilito Sobejana, commander of the Army's 601st Infantry Brigade.

He said the MILF's 105th and 118th Base Commands consisting of about 100 heavily armed fighters engaged Army troops in gun battles.

Sobejana made his statement even as an official said Moro National Liberation Front chairman Nur Misuari was helping the government recover seven Indonesian sailors who were abducted by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf in the waters of Sulu Sea last month.

Peace Process Secretary Jesus Dureza made the statement as he echoed President Rodrigo Duterte's wish for Misuari to come out in the open and participate in the peace process.

"Let me disclose to you that last night, Misuari sent word to me that he is already marshaling his forces there in order to try and work out the release of seven or 10 Indonesians that are being held [by the Abu Sayyaf]," Dureza said in a forum organized by the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines.

Sobejana said the MILF rebel group led by Wahid Tundok, commander of the 105th Base Command, had joined forces with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters under Commander Shiek Muhiddin Animbang alias Commander Karialan, a first cousin of Tundok.

He said the fighting, which started last week, escalated late in the afternoon Thursday after Army troopers hunting BIFF rebels tracked down the hideout of Karialan, prompting Tundok's men to secure his cousin.

When asked if they considered Tundok an ally, Sobejana admitted they were friends "but lately they have already signified alliance with Karialan because they are cousins, so blood is thicker than water."

He estimated that the BIFF force supporting the MILF and fighting government forces consisted of about 30 heavily-armed men.

Sobejana could not give any estimate on the numbers of casualties as the fighting was still raging.

He had already submitted a report to spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla saying the fighting was between them and the MILF.

Source: The Standard

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