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AFP: No Sayyaf threat in entire Visayas

MANILA, Philippines - The military has disputed reports on the presence of Abu Sayyaf bandits in the Visayas.

“Government forces have completed the job of eliminating the Abu Sayyaf threat in the Visayas,” Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao, Central Visayas Command chief, said on Thursday.

Lactao made the statement in reaction to reports that bandits were sighted in Aklan, Negros Oriental and Palawan.

Col. Eiezer Losanes, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said they are coordinating with the Philippine National Police and other state security agencies to ensure that the problem with extremist groups will not affect Negros island.

Speculation on the presence of Abu Sayyaf bandits in Negros was triggered by the arrest of Absnir Kudarat, 28, alias Abu Rafi Ben, who claimed to be a nephew of slain Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya, and Saldy Abelobah, 24. They were nabbed for illegal possession of firearms and explosives in Silay City on Monday.

Losanes said they are validating Kudarat’s claims, noting that there are inconsistencies in his statements.

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The 3rd Infantry Division deployed two battalions composed of 60 soldiers and 1,500 militiamen to heighten security in the region.

In Palawan, local officials and other stakeholders are undertaking measures to ensure that residents and visitors are safe against attacks by Abu Sayyaf bandits and other terrorists, said Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, Western Mindanao Command chief.

“We are taking a pro-active stance in dealing with terror threats as we have done in Bohol,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman.

Arevalo assured the public that they are not letting their guard down despite the neutralization of the Abu Sayyaf in Bohol.

Bohol was declared free of the Abu Sayyaf threat after the two remaining bandits who entered the province last month were killed in operations early this week.

The AFP said military offensives have diminished the strength of the Abu Sayyaf, noting that bandits were surrendering in groups in Sulu and Basilan.  – With Gilbert Bayora

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