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3 soldiers, 3 MILF members killed

Roel Pareño - The Philippine Star

In Basilan clashes

MANILA, Philippines — Three members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and three soldiers have been killed in skirmishes in Ungkaya Pukan, Basilan since Tuesday.

The fatalities on the side of the government were identified as Cpl. Alberto Dal Jr. and Pfcs. Nelson Bantoc and Junry Vega of the 18th Infantry Battalion (IB). Their bodies were airlifted to the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) headquarters in Zamboanga City.

Lt. Col. Abdurasad Sirajan, Westmincom public information officer, said ground troops confirmed only three fatalities on the side of the MILF.

Sgt. Marlon Entorum; Cpls. Balvestro Roxas, Ronaldo Gampoan and Alvien Zamora; Pfc. Bucog and  Pvt. Alfie Java of the 64th IB and 2nd Lt. Aurelio Torres of the 18th IB were wounded.

Sirajan said the wounded soldiers were supposed to resupply the troops engaged in the fighting when they were waylaid.

The military belied reports that four soldiers were captured and executed by the MILF.

MILF sources said their group suffered more casualties.

The fighting stopped yesterday after a ceasefire was imposed following a meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities of the government and MILF.

However, local officials reported that sporadic gunfire was heard yesterday morning.

Joint Task Force Basilan commander Brig. Gen. Domingo Gobway said it was agreed to deploy security forces from the MILF and the military in Barangay Ulitan.

Brig. Gen. Arturo Rojas, Westmincom acting chief, said the military is utilizing the ceasefire mechanism to end the hostilities between government forces and members of an MILF faction.

He said government troopers were told to maintain defensive positions to avoid casualties and collateral damage.

Rojas said reinforcements would be deployed if the situation warrants and pending approval by the military leadership.

He lauded Ungkaya Pukan Mayor Jomar Maturan for helping negotiate with the MILF to prevent violence from escalating.

Thousands displaced

Meanwhile, thousands displaced in the clashes were relocated to safe areas.

Up to 2,078 families in Barangays Ulitan, Mebak and Bato reportedly fled their homes to avoid being caught in the crossfire.

Basilan Gov. Jim Salliman urged both parties to disengage to pave the way for relief operations.

“It’s the plight of the displaced residents in Ungkaya Pukan that bothers us most. We want this conflict to end immediately,” he told reporters. –  John Unson, Ralph Edwin Villanueva

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