15 die in Sulu clash

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/25 September) – Thirteen alleged members of the Moro National Liberation Front and two soldiers were killed in an attack Sunday on a US-funded school project in Sulu, an official said.

Sulu provincial spokesperson Sonny Abing III, said in an emailed statement that the firefight broke out around 5 a.m. Sunday when around 150 armed men reportedly led by Ustadz Khabier Malik attacked the Marines stationed in a temporary outpost in Barangay Kabungkol, Talipao, Sulu.

Abing said Malik’s group, which opposes the construction of the school building, used high-powered firearms including mortars, light machineguns and recoilless rifles.

The troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team-10 (MBLT-10), though outnumbered, held their ground until two MG-520 helicopter gunships arrived to reinforce, the official said.

Abing said the attackers broke up into small groups and fled to the hinterlands leaving their slain comrades after the gunships rained bullets on them.

The remains of the slain rebels were taken to Camp General Teodulfo Bautista, the Marines headquarters, for identification by the Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) of the police.

The bodies will be turned over to the barangay officials of Kabungkol for proper burial, Abing said.

The official said they could not understand why Malik’s group has opposed the construction of the school building by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Kabungkol.

Malik and his men are facing criminal charges for allegedly holding hostage a government peace mission group in February of 2007 in the hinterlands of Sulu. They are said to be members of the MNLF who have refused to rejoin the mainstream even after the signing of the Final Peace Agreement on September 2, 1996.

Three more school buildings will be constructed to cater to the growing number of pupils in Sulu, Abing said. (MindaNews)