MILF ON A RAMPAGE IN MAGUINDANAO, N. COTABATO

Cotabato City, Feb. 13, 2003 (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau) -- Separatist Muslim rebels killed a government soldier and wounded 6 others in a series of attacks Wednesday in the southern Philippines, officials said.

Guerrillas also blew up two power pylons of the state-owned National Power Corporation in Maguindanao province before dawn Wednesday. Troops also disarmed two more bombs planted by rebels on two other towers in Pagalungan town in the province, regional Army spokesman Major Julieto Ando said.

He said a soldier was killed and three others injured when MILF forces attacked an Army detachment in Sultan sa Barongis town before dawn.MILF rebels also rocketed a Marine detachment inPagalungan town wounding3 soldiers.

The fighting broke out Tuesday when rebels simultaneously attacked military posts, Ando said, adding, a total of 60 MILF gunmen were killed in the skirmishes."So far, at least sixty rebels have been killed by troops and the MILF has suffered tremendous casualties -- many are wounded," Ando said.

But MILF deputy for military affairs Murad Ibrahim has denied the reports, saying, only 3 rebels were killed and two wounded in the fighting since Tuesday. "Our only casualties are three mujahideen and I don't know how the military got their figures," he said.

"The rebels are attacking us left and right despite a government cease-fire on Tuesday and we have no other recourse but to defend our positions," Ando told reporters.

Ando said electricty in many towns were cut off Wednesday after MILF gunmen blasted the towers. "We are trying to put law and order here and our main concern is the safety of civilians, who may be taen hostage by the rebels or used as shield against pursuing soldiers," he said.

The government cease-fire ended at 12 midnight Wednesday and fierce fightingwas again reported in many towns in Maguinadanao and North Cotabato province,where the rebels are known to operate.

Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya flew by plane to Maguindanao on Wednesday to supervise ongoing military operations against the MILF. "This offensive will not stop. We are battling terrorists here and the military will not allow the MILF to sow terror and destruction in Mindanao," Abaya told soldiers at the headquarters of the Army's 6th Infantry Division in Maguindanao.

Abaya has set-up a temporary command post in the province near where the fighting was reported, said Army Lt. Marcelino Cruz.

Defense Sec. Angelo Reyes on Wednesday accused the MILF of terrorism. "We have enough of MILF terrorism. They are involved in killings, kidnappings and terrorism in Mindanao and this must stop now," he said. "The government will not allow these things to continue."

Ando said security forces were battling a combined MILF-Pentagon force of more than 2,000 in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

"We have at least four battalions dispacthed in the provinces to counter the threats posed by the MILF and the Pentagon Gang," he said.

The military has mobilized at least 35 tanks and armored personnel carriers, two OV-10 bombers, two MG-520 attack choppers and six UH-1H transport helicopters to ferry troops and weapons.

Security officials have warned the public to stay vigilant after intelligence reports said MILF rebels may mount attacks on civilian targets and vital communication facilities in central Mindanao to divert the attention of the military. MILF rebels have previously bombed malls, buses and ferry boats in the southern Philippines and Western intelligence have lined the group to al Qaeda network and Jemaah Islamiya.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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