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MILF occupies Basilan town, 18 killed

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By Joel Guinto
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 19:44:00 08/11/2008

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) Around 300 Moro rebels occupied Tipo-tipo town on the southern island of Basilan Monday to protest the conduct of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), a Marine official said.

The firefight that ensued left two civilians, about 15 fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and a Marine killed, said Lieutenant Colonel Leonard Vincent Teodoro, commander of the 7th Marine Battalion Landing Team.

Two Marines and a militiaman were wounded, Teodoro said, while three policemen have been reported missing as the rebels stormed into the town of 48,284 people and occupied the municipal hall, school buildings, and other structures.

“They practically occupied the entire town. They entered by force,” he said.

Tipo-tipo Mayor Tong Istarul said the rebels burned an undetermined number of houses.

The rebels retreated late in the afternoon, Teodoro said, adding, “We pursued them with air support, artillery, and of course, the weapons of the Marines.”

This came as government troops pounded rebel positions in North Cotabato to flush out about 500 MILF fighters from five towns that they have occupied.

The military said a soldier, and an estimated seven MILF rebels were killed, while 12 soldiers were wounded in the North Cotabato fighting.

Violence flared up between the two sides after the Supreme Court on August 4 ordered the government to suspend plans to expand the ARMM by including 712 more villages.

The decision saw a number of MILF rebels take control of mainly Christian villages and towns in North Cotabato, a poor farming province in the restive southern Philippines.

At the same time, the MILF had also asked the ARMM elections be deferred until the current peace negotiations could be concluded but Congress said it did not have time to call the elections off.

The renewed clashes have forced nearly 130,000 people from their homes and into government refugee centers, the military said.

Dozens of civilians, mainly women and children, could be seen trudging along the main highway, carrying bundles of clothes and pots and pans on their backs as they fled the fighting.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been waging a 30-year guerrilla campaign for a separate Islamic state in the south of the largely Christian Philippines. With reports from Julie S. Alipala, Inquirer Mindanao Bureau; and Agence France-Presse

View article as posted on INQUIRER.net

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Written by joelguinto

MonUTC2008-08-11T15:32:29+00:00UTC08bUTCMon, 11 Aug 2008 15:32:29 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm08

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