Nine peo­ple killed in gun­bat­tle in In­a­banga

Mil­i­tants’ reach con­tin­ues to grow

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JIM GOMEZ

MANILA, PHILIPPINES | At least nine peo­ple were killed Tues­day in a gun­bat­tle be­tween Philip­pine forces and sus­pected Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants on a cen­tral re­sort is­land, far from the ex­trem­ists’ south­ern jun­gle bases and in a re­gion where the U.S. gov­ern­ment has warned that the gun­men may be plot­ting kid­nap­pings, of­fi­cials said.

Mil­i­tary of­fi­cials said at least five gun­men, three sol­diers and a po­lice­man had died in the on­go­ing gun­bat­tle in a vil­lage in the coastal town of In­a­banga in Bo­hol prov­ince. The is­land prov­ince is known for its beach re­sorts and wildlife and lies near Cebu prov­ince, a bustling com­mer­cial and tourism hub.

Spo­radic fire­fights con­tin­ued by night­fall in In­a­banga’s Napo vil­lage and two out­ly­ing vil­lages, where res­i­dents have fled to safety. Com­mando troops flew to Bo­hol to re­in­force gov­ern­ment forces, of­fi­cials said.

Na­tional po­lice chief Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Ron­ald dela Rosa said troops and po­lice­men at­tacked the gun­men early Tues­day in In­a­banga, where the gun­men had ar­rived aboard three boats. The gun­men took cover in three houses as the fire­fight broke out.

Gov­ern­ment forces seized con­trol of two of the houses, and the rest of the gun­men ei­ther were in the third house or had fled the area, Gen. dela Rosa told re­porters.

If it is proven that the gun­men were from the Abu Sayyaf, it may be the group’s first known at­tempt to carry out ran­som kid­nap­pings deep in the heart­land of the cen­tral Philippines, far from its jun­gle lairs in the south­ern prov­inces of Sulu and Basi­lan.

Bo­hol is­land, where one of the world’s small­est pri­mates, called tar­siers, are found, draw­ing many tourists, lies about 397 miles south­east of Manila. Bo­hol is about an hour away by boat from Cebu prov­ince, across the busy Cebu Strait, which is criss­crossed daily by fer­ries, cargo ships and fish­ing ves­sels.

Abu Sayyaf mil­i­tants have crossed the sea bor­der with Malaysia on pow­er­ful speed­boats and kid­napped scores of for­eign tourists in past years. In 2001, they sailed as far as west­ern Palawan prov­ince, where they seized 20 peo­ple, in­clud­ing three Amer­i­cans, from a re­sort.

“If we were not able to mon­i­tor this and en­gage them with our gov­ern­ment forces, it’s a cause for alarm if they were able to carry out kid­nap­pings,” Gen. dela Rosa said.

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