Zamboanga City, March 5, 2003 -- Several provinces in northern and central Mindanao experienced a power blackout Tuesday morning, triggering suspicions that Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels bombed another power line.

Malacaņang and defense officials, however, said the blackout was caused by a tree that fell on a power line in Lugait town, Misamis Oriental, triggering a trip off. Engineer Remigio Tongco, Napocor operations chief, said power was restored in most parts four hours after the blackout at about 10 a.m.

He said the blackout was caused by a permanent line fault, which he said could have been due to a fallen tree or twigs.

Affected by the blackout were Lanao del Norte, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Cotabato, Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Sarangani and General Santos City.

Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya said initial reports they got from 6th Infantry Division head Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga was that "a tower might have been toppled down in Cotabato and that's what's causing the the Cotabato-Davao area."

MILF gunmen also tried but failed to blow power transmission lines in South Cotabato and Sarangani provinces.

Sr. Supt. Romeo Rufino, South Cotabato police director, said about 10 MILF gunmen fired rocket-propelled grenades at tower lines but instead hit the two-story municipal hall building in Tantangan town.

He said the "rebels could hardly hit the power lines as police forces had already tightened security in the area."

Military spokesman Major Julieto Ando said there were no reports of civilian casualties but the series of explosions sent villagers into panic.

In Alabel, Sarangani, some 50 MILF gunmen attacked at dawn Tuesday the power plant of Southern Philippines Power Corp. in Barangay Baluntay, some seven kilometers from General Santos City.

Chief Insp. Carlito Alicarte, Alabel police chief, said the MILF gunmen using RPG fired at the bunker fuel tank containing some 10 million liters of bunker fuel.

"Alert policemen responded and repulsed the rebels," Alicarte said.

The military said it was alarmed over the continuous threats on power lines by the MILF.

Abaya said at least 24 transmission towers have been destroyed by MILF rebels the past two weeks, causing power outages in Mindanao.

The MILF launched its attacks on power lines after the military captured its camp called Boliok complex, which straddles the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, last Feb. 15.

Apart from toppling of power lines, secessionist rebels also launched a series of attacks on military installations to avenge the capture of their central Mindanao lair.

"They probably see the effect (of toppling power lines). In other words, it is not the military now that they are targeting. This is bordering already on terrorism," he said. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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