Gulf News

Rebels release villagers used as human shields

Tense standoff as Leftists raid armoury

- BY GILBERT FELONGCO Correspond­ent

Communist insurgents released some 200 villagers they earlier held hostage in Davao del Norte in southern Philippine­s after they used them as human shields to stave off pursuing security forces, reports said.

Chief Superinten­dent Andres Caro, Davao regional police director, was quoted as saying in a report in Philippine Daily Inquirer from Davao City that the hostages from the villages of Casilac and Manay in Panabo town are now “safe” after they were taken to the town centre.

Early yesterday, government forces had figured in a tense several-hour-long standoff with New People’s Army (NPA) insurgents who had raided the armoury of the Davao Prison and Penal Farm in Davao del Norte on Sunday.

The rebels, said to be numbering around 60, and reportedly followers of a certain Leonardo Pitao, had been trapped by government forces last morning. Reports said the air force carried out a bombing attack at a banana farm to flush out the rebels.

But later reports said Parago’s men had held villagers hostage, forcing military commanders to ease back on their offensive on the trapped insurgents.

“They used the hostages as human shields so the Philippine Army would not return fire,” Caro was quoted as saying in an interview published made by Inquirer on its website.

The site of yesterday’s battle was reportedly the same area where Parago’s forces launched an attack on Sunday at the Davao Prison and Penal Farm.

The men were reportedly able to cart off some 100 pieces of small arms as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition in what had been considered as one of the most successful rebel attacks in recent years.

Security lapses

Caro said security lapses were to blame for the attack where NPA rebels were able to easily overwhelm the penal farm’s security without firing a single shot. He said the NPA guerrillas dressed themselves in military uniforms to trick the sentries.

The assault on the armoury prompted Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Oscar Calderon to order police units to secure prison armouries.

“We are working for joint operations with military to secure armouries nationwide and foreign nationals since the NPA has announced its plan to conduct more attacks,” said Calderon. Caro said charges have been filed against rebel leaders for the attack. The Davao penal colony houses some 4,000 convicts. Caro said no convict escaped during the rebel attack.

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