KOLAMBUGAN (Philippines): The military bolstered its forces in the southern Philippines on Tuesday, anticipating more Muslim militants’ attacks after a rampage killed at least 37 people and displaced about 44,000.
A senior Army general said additional security forces were deployed to prevent a repeat of Monday’s carnage, when about 200-500 Moro-Islamic Liberation Front cadre cut off a main highway and raided up to five coastal towns in Lanao del Norte province.
They burnt houses and shot or hacked to death civilians and took others captive. In all, 33 civilians, at least three soldiers and a policeman were killed, said regional police director Teodorico Capuyan. The militants took 63 hostages as human shields but later released them in the next town, Tangcal, said police spokesman Nicanor Bartolome. Military officials said they believed a soldier and at least eight civilians were still in rebel custody.
The militants’ leadership denied ordering the attacks, saying they were launched by renegade commanders frustrated at delays to finalising a peace agreement. Interior Secretary Ronaldo Puno announced a 5 million peso ($1,13,000) bounty for information leading to the arrest of two commanders — Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Bravo, who led the latest attacks, and Ameril Umbra Kato, who led the occupation of predominantly Christian villages in the south last week.
The national disaster agency said about 44,000 people fled their homes during the latest fighting, most of them taking refuge in 19 evacuation centres in nearby Iligan and Ozamiz cities. Brig. Gen. Antonio Supnet, head of an Army brigade that flushed out the militants, said the attackers were being treated as “criminals and we will go after them anywhere.”
Kolambugan Mayor Beltran Lumaque said residents “were killed as they were sighted.”
In the neighbouring town of Kauswagan, police chief Nestor Ortiz said the militants had regrouped in nearby mountainous hinterland and security forces were keeping a close watch on them. “We haven’t had any sleep. We deployed near the highway and the perimeter of the town ... so they could not enter again,” he said.
Kabalu, the spokesman for the militants, said those who led Monday’s attack were frustrated after the Supreme Court — acting on a petition filed by Christian politicians wary of losing land and power — blocked a preliminary agreement with the militants calling for an expanded Muslim autonomous region.
The “leaders were making a statement to those ‘who want to perpetuate the colonial oppression of Muslims,” said the militants’ website. It also said an all-out war by the military would be a blunder “that would inevitably bring this sitting regime to its knees.” The statement said the abductions would be investigated because it was against the militants’ policy to take civilian hostages.
In Iligan, Lanao del Norte’s capital, authorities imposed a curfew and suspended school due to bomb threats and the unstable security situation. The military deployed tanks and helicopters.
Police forces in Manila also were placed on full alert. Special action troops were being deployed to the south from the north. — AP