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200 MILF fighters occupy school

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels occupied a public school and prevented residents from leaving several villages in Olutanga Island in Zamboanga Sibugay province, military officials said yesterday.

Residents confirmed that at least 200 MILF rebels took over the Samonte Elementary School in Barangay Samonte, Talusan town last Saturday, causing tension on Olutanga Island.

A member of the Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) disclosed that the rebels conducted checkpoints and prevented the civilians from traveling towards the nearby town of Suba-Nipa proper, just four kilometers away.

The Army said the rebels also seized the cellular telephones of civilians in the area.

Col. Santiago Baluyot, commander of the Army’s 102nd Brigade, said government troops have been deployed to prevent the rebels from further staging atrocities.

Baluyot said the rebels reportedly arrived from Basilan.

The rebels initially occupied the Samonte Elementary School in Barangay Samonte late Saturday.

“They butchered two cows they took from the villagers and ransacked the civilians of their properties,” said Chief Superintendent Elpedia de Asis, director of Police Regional Office 9.

De Asis said the rebels later withdrew towards Barangay Mual-buwal in Olutanga Island and occupied an abandoned school in Bolingan.

Baluyot said Army reinforcement troops have been deployed to secure Olutanga Island.

“This could be part of the diversionary attacks of the rebels because of our ongoing operations against the criminal elements in Barangay Talaib, Payao town,” Baluyot said.

Government toops have launced an offensive against MILF rebels in Payao town since last Thursday.

A government militiaman was also killed when the MILF rebels attacked the CAFGU detachment in Barangay Sta. Fe in Titay town last Saturday night.

The rebels were sighted moving toward the village of Bakalan in Ipil town, which is just adjacent to the headquarters of the Army’s 102nd Brigade.

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By Roel Pareño (The Philippine Star) Updated October 24, 2011 12:00 AM

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