Hundreds flee as troops hunt down fugitives

In a radio interview, Col. Pedro Soria, commanding officer of the 602nd Brigade based in Carmen town, said he sent troops to Barangay Magatos, Kabacan to run after the group that raided the provincial jail on Feb. 2. The raid led to the escape of 48 inmates including three suspected bombers.

Soria, however, claimed the soldiers merely retaliated after their adversaries fired four mortars at them.

“We were in a defensive posture then. So when our troops were attacked, they returned fire,” he said, adding his men suffered no casualties.

The Army official said the attack did not violate any ceasefire agreement signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

“Our troops were running after suspected jail raiders and jail breakers. They were not sent there to run after the MILF, so there’s no violation of any agreement signed by the government and the MILF. We respect the ongoing peace process,” he stressed.

Ten of the 48 inmates that escaped from the provincial jail in Amas Complex here were reportedly sighted in Magatos, one of the satellite bases of the 502nd Brigade of the 108th base command of the MILF.

Among the escapees who were reportedly sighted in Magatos were Datu Sultan Ali, Kaer Mundos and Guindo Tukan. The three are facing multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder cases in connection with the bombing a public terminal here in October 2002.

A military intelligence report identified Mundos as a top official of the militant Jemaah Islamiah.

The military has repeatedly linked some MILF members to JI which is said to be responsible for the October 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia that killed scores of foreigners.

The MILF is fighting for Muslim self-rule in Mindanao. In 2003, it entered into a shaky ceasefire agreement with the Philippine government. (Malu Cadeliña Manar/MindaNews)