NEWSFLASH

JOLO OFFENSIVE VS. ASG CONTINUES

Zamboanga City, Jan. 17, 2003 (By Al Jacinto, PHNO reporter) - Government soldiers on Friday combed a jungle village in search for weapons and bodies of Abu Sayyaf rebels killed in clashes in the southern Philippines islandof Jolo, a regional Army commandersaid.

MajorGeneral Glicerio Sua, chief of the First Infantry Division, said security forces werecombing thejungle on Patikultown where fighting erupted Thursdaythat leftthreesoldiers dead and six others wounded.

The militarysaid it intercepted enemy radio messagesindicating many rebels were either killed andinjured in the fighting in the village of Pansol.

"Our soldiers are scouring the area for weapons and bodies of slain rebels," Sua told reporters from an Army basehere.

The chief of the armed forces in the southern Philippines Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya and his deputy Col. Roland Detabali flew early Friday morning by choppers to Jolo island to inspect troops and supervise the ongoing offensive against the rebels, whose group is tied to Al Qaeda network.

Abaya was briefed by senior Army officials about the operation. An unnamedArmy official in Jolo quoted Abaya as saying "let's finish off this problems with the Abu Sayyafand get it over with. I want the hostages rescued safely and the terrorists destroyed."

Two MG-520 attack choppers on Thursday rocketed suspected rebel lairs in the jungle of Patikul town, where the Abu Sayyaf is believed to be holding seven hostages, three of them Indonesians, kidnapped last year in the largely Muslim island, about 950 m south of Manila.

Jolo Army commander Col. Alexander Aleo on Friday saidtroops were tracking down some 200rebels under Abu Sayyaf chieftain Khadaffy Janjalani andRadullan Sahiron, tagged by the military as behind the kidnapping of three Indonesian seamen and four Filipino preachers in the largelyMuslim island.

"There is an ongoing offensive against the terror group. We are tracking down the terrorists," he said, addingrenegade members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) under rebel leader Tahil Sali were backing theAbu Sayyaf in fighting government forces in Jolo.

The US government last year put a five-million-dollar bounty on the heads of Janjalani andfour other senior Abu Sayyaf leaders for the killing ofAmerican hostages Guillermo Sobero and MartinBurnham on the southern Philippines.

Sobero was beheaded in June 2001 in Basilan island while Burnham was killed in Zamboanga del Norte in Mindanaowhen the rebels clashed with Filipino troops sent to rescue him the following year. His wife Gracia Burnham was rescued.

The military said Sahiron was one of those whoraidedtheresort island of Sipadan off Sabah, Malaysia in 2000 and kidnapped 21 mostly Westerners and Asian holidaymakers and brought them by boat to Jolo island.

Most of the hostages were freed after Libyan and Malaysian negotiators reportedly paid some $25-million dollars in ransom and most of the money were used to purchase weapons and finance the rebel's violent activities in the South.

The group, which claimed to be fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines, was tagged last yearby the United States and the European Union as a foreign terrorist organization.

Police and military estimate the number of Abu Sayyaf fighters in Jolo island at around 1,000 and a little more than 200 in nearby Basilan island, another rebel stronghold about 15 miles south of Zamboanga City.


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