Death toll in Basilan clash: 19

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanews/19 October) – The death toll in Tuesday’s clash between government forces and an armed group in the hinterlands of Basilan has reached 19 on the government side as the bodies of seven more soldiers were recovered Wednesday.

The group of Vice-Gov. Alrasheed Sakkalahul retrieved the bodies of six soldiers in Al-Barka town. Earlier at noon, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the death toll had reached 13 from 12 as of Tuesday night.

The six were among the reported 10 missing-in-action during a nine-hour clash Tuesday in Sitio Bakisung, Barangay Cambug, Al-Barka.

Thirteen soldiers, including four officers, were killed while 11 others, including an officer, were wounded when they clashed Tuesday with a group of what Western Mindanao Command spokesperson Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang described as “bandits.”

Cabangbang said the troops were sent on patrol in Barangay Cambug to check on the reported presence of a bandit group along with a kidnap victim when the clash broke out.

Cabangbang did not identify the kidnap victim who was reportedly seen with the group of bandits.

Cabangbang identified the leader of the bandits as Dan Laksaw Asnawi, one of 30 inmates who escaped from the Basilan provincial jail on December 30, 2009.

Cabangbang said Asnawi was also involved in the beheading of 14 marines in July 2007 in Barangay Ginanta, Al-Barka municipality.

Cabangbang said some members of the MILF have joined the firefight “to help their relatives” who were among the bandits and at the same time “to get firearms” contrary to the claim of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) that the troops “deliberately” attacked its 114th Base Command.

Cabangbang  stressed the site of the encounter was not an “area of temporary stay” of the MILF.

He said the “area of temporary stay” of the MILF is four kilometers away from the site of the firefight, Cabangbang said.

Sakkalahul said he is willing to help locate the four other missing soldiers but with proper clearance from both the government and the MILF. (MindaNews)