MILF RAID: 4 CIVILIANS DEAD, 7 SECURITY MEN CAPTURED   

Zamboanga City, March 6, 2003 -- Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces raided a remote village Thursdayin the southern Philippines, attackingmilitary posts andkillingfour civilians, officials said.

Seven security men were also captured by guerrillas in separate attacks as fierce fighting erupted in the largely Muslim province of Lanao del Norte, a rebl spokesman Eid Kabalu said.

Provincial Army commander Col. Ernesto Boac said about 50 rebels attacked the village of Buayan in Lanao del Norte's Tubod town. The rebels, numbering about 50, opened fire on a row of thatched houses and shelled a military detachment in the village.

"The attack left four civilians dead," Boac said. "Troops repulsed the attack on the outpost."

The MILF said it captured seven security men after a firefight in the town of Balo-in also in Lanao del Norte. "The seven are being interrogated and we may hand them over to the Internationak Committe of the Red Cross after we are finished with the investigation," Kabalu told reports.

Some 100 rebels also stormed a key power facility on Thursday and tried to overran the state-run Abaga power station,but soldiersrepelled the raid, Boac said, adding, a still undetermined number of rebels were either killed or wounded.

Security forces have recovered bloodied backpacksand several weapons, mostly automatic rifles, left behind by rebels, he said. Latest military reports said two MILF leaders, whose nom de guere were Commander "Protector" and "Kalayaan," were seriously wounded in the clash.

Boac said government forces also clashed with about 200 rebels in Tingin-Tingin village in Kauswagan town after MILF gunmen attacked military posts.

There were no reports of military casualties, Boac said. "Fighting is going on in Lanao and we also have mounted an operation to rescue seven of my men who have gone missing in Balo-i (town), he said.

Kabalu said fighting will not stop in the southern Philippines unless the military halt its offensive against the MILF, the country's largest separatist Muslim rebel group fighting for independence in the southern Philippines.

He said MILF chieftain Salamat Hashim has ordered rebels tobe ready to fight at all cause. "Chairman Salamat hasordered all MILF mujahideen to be ready to fight at all cause and to defend themselves and their homelands against the infidels," Kabalu said.

On Wednesday, ahomemade bomb explodedat the South Seas department store in Cotabato City near Maguindanao province,a day after suspectedrebels attacked an internationalairport in Davao City.

Army spokesman Capt. Onting Alon said no one was killed in the bomb attack after it went offatthe store'sbaggage counter. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell heavily on the MILF, Alon said.

The military also said that suspected MILF rebels bombed and toppled a power pylon of the state-run National Power Corporation (NPC)in the town of Pikit in North Cotabato province late Tuesday.

The MILF has denied all accusations, but the military insist the rebels were behind all attacks on NPA towers. The rebels have stepped up attacks against civilian and military targets after Hashimdeclared an all out waragainst the government in retaliation to the ongoing offensive against them.

Authorities also blamed the MILF in the airport attack, although the al Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group has owned up the bombing that left 21 people dead and mnore than 160 others wounded.

Manila has broken off peace talks with the MILF because of the hostilities. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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