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Troop movements continue in Sulu

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By Julie Alipala, Ed General, Joel Guinto
Mindanao Bureau, INQUIRER.net
First Posted 19:10:00 06/15/2008

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines–After firing mortar shells at Indanan town in Sulu Sunday where the Abu Sayyaf group were holding broadcast journalist Ces Drilon, her cameraman and a Mindanao professor, military troop movements continue in the area.

Indanan Mayor Alvarez Isnaji, who is also negotiating for the release of the victims, said the military fired mortar shells at Sitio Timaho and Bud (Mount) Kapok in his town Sunday morning.

But the military denied a military operation was launched at that time.

“There is no military operation going on … I do not know of any military shelling. It is unlikely to conduct military operations when negotiations are still going on,” Brig. Gen. Juancho Sabban, chief of Task Force Comet told reporters in Sulu Sunday morning.

Lieutenant General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), also said the shelling in Indanan town did not specifically target the group that was holding the ABS-CBN crew.

“There is no connection,” Allaga said in a phone interview with INQUIRER.net, referring to the kidnapping and the Sunday offensive. “With or without the kidnapping of Ces, we have long been running after the Abu Sayyaf. That can happen anytime, as long there is a report [of Abu Sayyaf presence], we will strike.”

But in an interview late Sunday afternoon, when Sabban and some of his battalion commanders were celebrating Father’s Day on a beach in Sulu, Sabban admitted that the shelling and the movement of troops were part of a “drill in an actual situation.”

“We just like them to feel the military presence in the area,” Sabban said.

He also said the activities were just a “rehearsal.”

The so-called rehearsal has been costly. MNLF Commander Sumimpal Khanain said around 25 bombs were fired and “close to 200 families are displaced.” He said the displaced residents came from Sitio Timaho, Bud Kapo and Barangay Siyunugan.

Khanain also said a woman, identified as Sitti Bahari, was wounded. “She was rushed this morning to the Sulu Provincial District Hospital,” Khanain said.

The shelling early morning Sunday was the topic of the crisis management committee meeting on the same day.

On Saturday night, Isnaji said, the kidnappers also called saying government troops were seen near where they are holding the victims.

“Medyo nabahala sila kasi maraming tropa ang nakita nila malapit sa kanilang pinagkukutaan. Tinawagan namin ang Marines at pinakiusapan sila na huwag papasok. At pinakiusapan ko rin ang mga may hawak kay Ces na huwag basta-basta gagawa ng bagay na pagsisihan ng marami. (They were a bit alarmed because they saw many troops near their hideout. We called the Marines and requested them not to move in. I also requested the captors of Ces not to make any rash actions that many would regret),” the mayor said.

After a crisis committee meeting Sunday afternoon, Isnaji said the military had explained that the troops’ movement and shelling were “routinary” on their part.

“The Marines explained that it had nothing to do with the negotiations,” he said.

The abductors also called Sunday afternoon.

“OK lang sila, malayo sa shelling. (They are fine and far away from the shelling),” Isnaji said.

The mayor said the kidnappers were demanding P20 million in ransom, “but I told them that amount is very impossible to give and that the government maintains a no-ransom policy.”

Meanwhile, Isnaji said the kidnappers who are still holding Drilon, her cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion, and Mindanao State University professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo, are sons and grandsons of his “contemporaries in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).”

“I was surprised when these people (the captors) chose me to be the emissary. I then strongly suspected na ito ay mga anak at apo ng mga dating (that they were the sons and grandsons of former) MNLF commanders,” Isnaji said.

Isnaji said the suspects are between 15 and 30 years of age. Khanain said the kidnappers were “young Tausug boys.”

“Mga bata pa yan sila (They are still young). They are not organized. They don’t have any name for the group,” he said.

Khanain said the kidnappers’ firearms were “either inherited from their parents or grandparents or bought from their earnings in selling copra.”

Both Isnaji and Khanain confirmed that these young boys are difficult to manage.

“Ito yung mga nawawala sa landas o napabayaan (These are people who fell by the wayside or were neglected),” Khanain said.

“Mga batang agresibo dala ng kahirapan sa buhay (They are aggressive youth borne of hardships in life),” Isnaji said.

“As a father of the town, a former leader and commander of their fathers and grandfathers in the jungle before, I am trying my best to influence them to give Ces and the two to me without any conditions,” Isnaji said.

“All I can assure them is that government is doing its best to address their economic situation and education,” he added.

Khanain also called on the Philippine Marines to turn over a suspect in the kidnapping, Juamil Biyaw, to the local police.

Biyaw was earlier reported to have led Drilon and company to their kidnappers. Biyaw, however, on Saturday showed up at the 3rd Marine Brigade headquarters and denied the allegations that he had a hand in the kidnapping and that he was a military asset.

“If the Marines had nothing to do with this, then they should cooperate and hand … Biyaw to the investigators. The more they keep the suspect, the more people here will think that uniformed people are behind the kidnapping of journalists and a peace advocate,” Khanain said.

Khanain said Biyaw “is not and was never a legitimate organic member of the MNLF.”

Khanain said Biyaw is known in the community as “an asset with a special mission.”

Marama Hashim, the driver hired by Drilon’s group, pointed to Biyaw as the man who led the victims to their abductors.

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

SunUTC2008-06-15T13:00:44+00:00UTC06bUTCSun, 15 Jun 2008 13:00:44 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm06

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