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19,000 flee as police, military stage offensive in Mindanao

Some lairs of armed bandits in Western Mindanao have fallen to government troops that launched “law enforcement" offensives designed to flush out suspects in the killing of Army personnel last week in Basilan and Zamboanga Sibugay. The ongoing conflict has driven at least 19,000 people to seek refuge from the fighting.

Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said government troops took over an armed group’s camp in Sitio Talib in Payao town, Zamboanga Sibugay at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Recovered from the camp supposedly led by fugitive Waning Abdulsalam were improvised explosive devices or IEDs, Ortiz added.

Chief Superintendent Elpidio de Asis, Zamboanga regional police chief, said the joint police-military force also wants to gain control of a small part of Barangay Labatan, supposedly used by the Abdulsalam syndicate “as a safe haven for kidnapping activities."

Thousands of refugees in evac centers

To avoid being caught in the crossfire, at least 19,000 people have sought temporary refuge in evacuation centers, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC).

The NDRRMC said four people were killed in Alicia and eight were wounded. The identities of the casualties were still being identified as of Wednesday evening. In Basilan, one person was reported killed as military and police forces stage “enforcement operations" in Cambug, Al-barka.

Local disaster response officials said some of the evacuees are used to leaving their homes behind whenever military operations are underway in their towns.

Most of the refugees, 11,593 of them, are from the towns of Alicia, Payao and Talusan in Zamboanga Sibugay. Over in Basilan, 7,888 people are accounted for in the evacuation centers. — With a report from AFP/Andreo Calonzo/KBK/ELR/VS, GMA News


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