500 flee as AFP intensifies operation vs. NPA in Agusan

KITCHARAO, Agusan del Norte (MindaNews/8 Nov) – About 500 people, including members of the Mamanwa tribe, left their homes in a hinterland village here as the military intensified operations against the New People’s Army, bombarding rebel positions with artillery and helicopter gunships last Sunday afternoon, belated reports said.

The operation resulted in the death of a Scout Ranger, Pfc Ninoto C. Gulani, and the wounding of four others, including an officer, according to Maj. Eugenio Julio Osias IV, spokesperson of Army’s the 4th Infantry Division.

About a hundred houses in Sitio Zapanta in Barangay Bangayan – site of frequent of clashes between the military and the NPA – were reportedly deserted on the fifth massive evacuation to happen in the area this year.

Residents said the Army’s 30th Infantry Battalion fired 105mm Howitzer rounds as the Air Force’s MG-520 helicopters attacked rebel positions starting 10 a.m. on Sunday as members of the 5th and 6th Scout Ranger Companies, meantime, operated on the ground in search of rebels.

Nonito V. Senonis, Bangayan barangay chairman, said that the evacuees, including children, started arriving at the barangay hall compound at 4 p.m. on Sunday. Some were accommodated in the buildings around the hall, while others sought refuge in the houses of relatives nearby.Evacuees queue to get their food rations from local authorities in Kitcharao town, Agusan del Norte last Monday, Nov. 7, 2011. At least 500 residents sought temporary refuge here after government forces launched air strikes against the New People's Army. MindaNews photo by Erwin Mascarinas

“The people were afraid of the explosions all over the place. We can even hear the explosions from here in the barangay hall,” Senonis said. He said the explosions started at 10 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m., with an hour-long lull at noon time.

MindaNews came across a farmer and his wife who both had bruised legs after jumping off a shallow cliff as they hurriedly left their home to avoid being hit in the bombing raid. Noel (not his real name), said he had to jump off the cliff while holding one of his children. His wife and the rest of the children jumped, too.

The wounded among the Scout Rangers were identified as Captain Mark Steve T. Cimini, Cpl Mabel Sacayan, Pfc Josel P. Sedrome and Pfc Henry M. Simba.

Osias said that members of the 6th Scout Ranger Company engaged NPA rebels in a firefight at the vicinity of Zapanta Valley at 11:12 a.m. last Sunday. The three soldiers wounded during the clash were immediately “medevacked” aboard UH-1H Huey helicopter to Butuan City for treatment.

Shortly after, another encounter took place in Sitio Maribuhok, also in Barangay Bangayan, where the lone Ranger fatality was killed and yet another wounded as government troops encountered an undetermined number of NPAs.

Policemen from the Caraga Regional Mobile Group and Kitcharao Police Station immediately set up check points at road junctions in Barangay Haliobong and Barangay Kanaway and in the highway junction in Tubay town, also in Agusan del Norte, while soldiers from the 30th Infantry Battalion established additional checkpoints in Barangay Bangayan and Barangay Mara-iging.

“ As far as police work is concerned, we are ready and prepared for any situation,” said Insp. Charlito M. Duero, Kitcharao police chief.

Osias said that military operations under the guidance of Maj. Gen. Victor Felix, 4ID commanding general, will continue until those responsible for the burning in Claver in the neighboring province of Surigao del Norte are brought to justice.

The NPA attacked three mining firms in Claver early last month, burning mining equipment worth hundreds of millions of pesos. The rebel group said it was a punishment against the mining companies for destroying the environment.

In another development, a militiaman’s wife was killed while three others were wounded in an ambush allegedly staged by the NPA in the hinterlands of Sitio Lantad, Barangay Kibanban, Balingasag town in Misamis Oriental Misamis Oriental, Osias said.

He said the victims were aboard a habalhabal (motorcycle with a longish seat to accommodate more passengers) en route to Cagayan de Oro City when a group of NPA rebels ambushed them.

Killed was Eluna Lindahay, whose husband Elorde, a militiaman, was among those wounded. The others wounded were William Castillo and the driver of the habalhabal, whose name was not immediately available.

Osias said Lindahay and Castillo are scheduled to testify on Thursday in a murder and frustrated murder cases filed against NPA leader Reden Libona before a Misamis Oriental Regional Trial Court (RTC).

Libona was arrested by combined military and police forces in March of 2008 in Bukidnon. (Erwin Mascariñas/MindaNews with reports)