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MILF goes on a rampage

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Five rubber plantation workers and a government militiaman were killed while at least eight others were wounded after an attack by suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas in Sumisip, Basilan yesterday.

Lt. Col. Jose Laplap, commanding officer of the Army’s 4th Special Forces Company, said the workers of the rubber plantation cooperative were on a convoy being escorted by Cafgu Active Auxiliary (CAA) militiamen when they were attacked on their way to Upper Cabengbeng in Sumisip town at 6:16 a.m.

“Five of the rubber tappers and their CAA escort were killed and eight others were wounded in the ambush,” Laplap said.

Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Lt. Col. Randolf Cabangbang said the workers belonged to the Tumahubong Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Incorporated Development Cooperative (TARBIDC).

Five of the victims were identified as Renato Aligay, Junrel Langugon, Delord Johnson, Buenaventura Lugamay, and militiaman Fernando Tantalo.

Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said the sixth fatality remained unidentified.

Those seriously wounded were identified as workers Alfredo Rojas, Abdul Mot, Julibert Dingkong, Danilo Tonghay, Francisco Taklindo and Adzar Madjakin, and CAA members Bonifacio Dagodog Jr. and Gilbert Guevarra. All suffered gunshot wounds.

Cabangbang said their initial investigation revealed the attackers were led by MILF commander Hassan Asnawi, the same group that attacked and killed 19 soldiers in Al-Barka town last week.

Officials said around 40 heavily armed MILF guerrillas swooped down on the convoy of light trucks while about to cross a bridge in Sitio Along–Along area in Sumisip town.

“According to a source, more or less 40 MILF (members) under Hassan Asnawi perpetrated the ambush,” Cabunoc added in a text message.

The gunmen were reportedly positioned at both sides of the bridge before opening fire at the victims with their automatic rifles.

Witnesses said one of the victims even tried to crawl into a nearby ditch, but was hacked dead with a pira, a traditional Yakan bladed weapon, by one of the attackers.

Government troops under the Army’s 20th Special Forces Company along with the Scout Rangers immediately responded to the site but failed to catch up with the gunmen.

Cabunoc clarified security forces can run after the gunmen since the area is not within the so-called MILF’s area of temporary stay (ATS).

“Since the area is not part of the ATS, the government is free to pursue them,” he said.

Laplap, on the other hand, said they were still trying to determine the group behind the ambush.

Local officials said the ambush could be part of the ploy by a group of Asnawi to divert the attention of authorities investigating the involvement of his men in last week’s ambush of 19 soldiers in Al-Barka town.

The troops also did not discount the possibility that the attack could be a diversionary tactic by the rebels.

Cabunoc, however, said one of the possible motives behind the ambush is extortion.

“There are reports that the group of Asnawi is extorting money from the cooperative. When the cooperative refused (to give in to the demands), its workers were ambushed,” Cabunoc told radio dzBB.

Cabunoc said the Army remains supportive of the peace talks with the MILF but stressed that the campaign against lawless elements would continue.

“The government does not target all of them (MILF). The government is just after the lawless elements,” he said.

Cabunoc said turning over to the government the lawless elements with pending charges would help reduce the bloodshed in the area. –With John Unson, Alexis Romero

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

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