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Nation

Gov't seeks ways to stop return of Abus to Basilan town

John Unson - Philstar.com

BASILAN, Philippines  — The Regional Peace and Order Council (RPOC) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao imposed on Sunday measures to stave off a return to Al-Barka town of Abu Sayyaf gunmen whom soldiers drove away last week.

Hundreds of Yakan families were displaced by the hostilities, forced to leave their homes by encounters between Army personnel and Abu Sayyaf members.

ARMM Gov. Mujiv Hataman, presiding chair of RPOC, led last weekend a local security dialogue among local officials, the police and military and representatives from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to build consensus on how to stop the recurring encounters in Al-Barka.

Hataman said he is thankful to the mayors in Basilan and the ceasefire committee of the MILF for helping restore normalcy in Al-Barka following last week's series of encounters there.

The Armed Forces' Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City had said no fewer than 15 bandits were killed in the gunfights between soldiers and gunmen led by Abu Sayyaf leaders Isnilon Hapilon, Nurhassan Jamiri and Furuji Indama.

The three Abu Sayyaf commanders are wanted for heinous offenses, including kidnapping, cattle theft and bomb attacks in different areas in Basilan.

The Abu Sayyaf is not covered by the interim ceasefire accord between the government and the MILF, which enjoins both sides to mutually cooperate in addressing security concerns in potential flashpoint areas in Mindanao.

Local officials in Al-Barka had promised Hataman to help restrain the movement of Abu Sayyaf forces in the area that perpetrate extremist activities in the area.

Hataman's continuing campaign in Al-Barka and surrounding towns has caused a deep-seated animosity between him and Abu Sayyaf forces in Basilan.

He thrice survived roadside bombings in recent months while his convoy was passing through secluded stretches of the Basilan circumferential road, concreted under his administration's supervision.

Hataman and volunteers from the ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Assistance and Response Team (HEART) had also dispersed relief supplies to evacuees from Al-Barka last weekend.

HEART officials said the Hataman-led RPOC is now helping the police and military work out the return of the evacuees to their villages.

ABU ABU SAYYAF AL-BARKA ARMED FORCES AUTONOMOUS REGION BASILAN HATAMAN HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE AND RESPONSE TEAM HUNDREDS OF YAKAN ISNILON HAPILON MORO ISLAMIC LIBERATION FRONT
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