GOVT CAPTURES CAMP ABUBAKAR!
Camp Abubakar, Maguindanao, July 10, 2000 - Camp Abubakar, the main enclave of the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is now in government hands. Government troops entered the MILF bastion before noon yesterday, ending months of fierce battles.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) captured Camp Abubakar at 11 a.m., President Estrada said in a statement issued by Malacañang.
Eight soldiers were killed and 37 were wounded in the assault, Malacañang said. On the MILF side, 30 dead guerrillas were found in bunkers, trenches, abandoned huts and near a building serving as the base of MILF chairman Hashim Salamat.
"Government troops have seized major structures inside the sprawling camp, including the armory where retreating MILF fighters left a huge cache of arms and ammunition," the Palace statement said.
Estrada said the military faced little resistance from the rebels in seizing facilities at the 10,000-hectare camp, despite the MILF's earlier statement that they would defend their headquarters at all costs.
"I salute all soldiers who have been putting their lives on the line so the people of Mindanao and of the whole country can live in peace and fully enjoy their rights and democratic governance," the President said.
Mr. Estrada said the fall of Camp Abubakar would enable the government to speed up economic development in impoverished areas in Mindanao.
"With this development, we can look forward to faster government efforts to give Mindanaoans the quality of life they have long deserved," he said.
Most buildings inside the camp were scarred by gunshots or bomb blasts. Fallen trees lay in many places, surrounded by craters dug by bombs dropped by military aircraft.
Government troops deliberately spared mosques and houses, said Maj. Gen. Gregorio Camiling, commander of the Army's 6th Infantry Division.
"The damage was heavy on the perimeter areas and less intense in the main camp," Camiling said. "At least our efforts bore fruit."
A report by Armed Forces chief Gen. Angelo Reyes to the President said that no government aircraft or armor was lost during the assault.
The military attributed the light resistance to the mass abandonment of the camp by MILF fighters.
Troops were now "consolidating their forces" as they set up perimeter security around the camp before a scheduled flag-raising ceremony to be attended by top military and defense officials today.
Soldiers are also sweeping the area for land mines planted by fleeing MILF fighters.
A large group of jubilant soldiers led by the chief of the military's Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Diomedio Villanueva, entered the camp and the buildings that used to house the guerrillas.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said the fall of the camp does not signal the end of their separatist struggle.
"Despite the capture of Camp Abubakar, our dream of establishing an Islamic Mindanao continues," he said. "Every Muslim dreams of living in a land free of discrimination and exploitation."
"There will be more Moro rebels who will rise up and continue the fight," he said.
Camp Abubakar's fall came after almost four months of ceaseless air and artillery operations against MILF strongholds across Mindanao.
Hundreds of soldiers and rebels have been killed and thousands of others from both sides wounded in the fighting.
A Marine was killed and 15 Army soldiers were wounded late Friday night before the guerrillas retreated towards Camp Abubakar and behind their last line of defense, Camp Jaguar.
Military saves life of rebel
Brig. Gen. Emmanuel Teodosio, commander of the 1st Marine Brigade, said the life of a wounded MILF guerrilla was saved after a military doctor, Capt. Armando Azur, removed bullets from his leg and chest during an operation. Teodosio said Marines brought the rebel, Abdullah Singgon, to their camp after they captured him during recent fighting here.
Teodosio said he would donate a pint of blood to the wounded guerrilla, who had lost a lot of blood.
"Even if we are in the business of killing the enemy, I felt I had to help the dying rebel because we are all Filipinos," he said.
Teodosio said the fighting was so fierce that his men nearly ran out of ammunition. "I hope that was their last resistance," he said.
Army spokesman Maj. Johnny Macanas said the wounded guerrilla will be taken to Cotabato City for proper medical attention.
Army artillery, and Air Force bombers and helicopter gunships have been bombarding Camp Abubakar since last week and before the lapse of the June 30 deadline set by President Estrada for substantive progress in peace talks.
After occupying, Camp Jalajuddin in the nearby town of Puntukan, Compostela Valley, the military and Philippine National Police have vowed to capture another MILF enclave in Tarragona, Davao Oriental.
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