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Death toll in Sulu clash hits 14

Roel Pareño - The Philippine Star

ZAMBOANGA CITY , Philippines  â€“ The death toll in last Saturday’s encounter between government troops and Abu Sayyaf bandits in Sulu increased to 14 with seven militants killed and 15 soldiers wounded.

The clash broke out in Barangay Tugas in Patikul and left seven Marines, including a junior officer, killed and 10 others wounded.

Col. Jose Joriel Cenabre, commanding officer of the 2nd Marine Brigade and chief of the Joint Task Force Sulu, said the casualties of the Abu Sayyaf were based on body count in the area.

The slain militants were identified as Jumli Muhammad, Salip Uddin, Ambotong, Saif Ajim, Kausar Sawadjaan, Apong Idul, and a certain Pakkal.

The military earlier identified three other slain suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen as Jumilden Wali, Hairula Asbang, and Ibno Abdulkahal.

An official, however, said they could not confirm if the three killed were part of the group that figured in the encounter with the troops.

Cenabre said marine forces continued pursuit operations against the gunmen. There had been no encounter since Saturday’s clashes after the Abu Sayyaf splintered into small groups while dragging their wounded comrades.

Cenabre said they have intelligence reports pinpointing the location of the gunmen.

The troops ran into the Abu Sayyaf gunmen while tracking down the group suspected of kidnapping Criselda Marcos Villaraza, wife of a non-commissioned Marine officer assigned in Sulu.

Villaraza, a medical technologist of the Sulu Provincial Hospital, was kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf last May 18 and freed unharmed two days later, the military said.

Cenabre said the fighting was fierce and led to the big number of casualties.

Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said it was too early to say whether there were lapses committed during the Sulu clash.

Tutaan said they would leave it to the field commanders to assess the incident.

“We will let the operational commanders look into the incident and take action on the matter,” he told radio dzBB.

The military airlifted the remains of the seven marines to Manila yesterday to be brought to their grieving families.

The wounded soldiers, however, remained at a military hospital here with orders not to grant interviews to the media.

Marine Commandant Brig. Gen. Romeo Tanalgo said the remains of the seven soldiers would be given a heroes’ welcome today at the Marine headquarters in Fort Bonifacio.

“Every Marine is prepared to (make) the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of ending terrorism, to pave the way for peace and development,” Tanalgo said.

“But that’s the way it is. They know the risk.”

Details of the ceremonies are still being threshed out as of yesterday afternoon.

“We give a heroes’ welcome to soldiers killed in action. The families of the slain soldiers will be present and we will hand over to them the benefits they are entitled to,” Marines spokesman 1Lt. Vladimir Cabrera said.

The bravery of the fallen soldiers was recognized in military rites held at the Naval Forces Western Mindanao Command headquarters.

Before departing for Manila, the fallen soldiers were given last respects in a sendoff ceremony held yesterday noon at the Edwin Andrews Airbase in Zamboanga City.

The remains arrived yesterday afternoon in Villamor Airbase in Pasay, where they were given arrival honors before they were brought to Fort Bonifacio. –Alexis Romero

ABU SAYYAF

ALEXIS ROMERO

APONG IDUL

ARMED FORCES

BARANGAY TUGAS

CENABRE

CRISELDA MARCOS VILLARAZA

DOMINGO TUTAAN JR.

EDWIN ANDREWS AIRBASE

FORT BONIFACIO

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