BUS HIJACKED, SOLDIER KILLED BY REBELS IN COTABATO  

Cotabato City, March 10, 2003 -- Muslim gunmen who hijacked abus Mondayin the southern Philippine province of North Cotabato haveexecuted a government soldier, and killed one civilian militia volunteer in the the strife-torn Pikit town, officials said.

Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya said five civilians were also wounded in the ensuing clash between the military and hijackers in Pikit town.

"All 35 passengers were safely rescued and pursuit operation is going. One soldier and a militia were killed, but this won't stop our operation against the terrorists," Abaya said.

Abaya said the rebels also seized two other buses in the town, but laterfreed dozens ofpassengers. He said fighting broke out early Monday in Pikit town after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces attacked patrolling soldiers.

A regional Army spokesman Major Julieto Ando has blamed the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in thekilling of the soldier."He was killed by the MILF rebels," he said.

Radio reports said the rebels shot one passenger in the headafter they discovered that he was a government soldier in civilian clothing. Radio network dzRH identified the soldier asArmy Sgt. Juantio Digno. Reports said some 300 rebels flagged down buses and cargo truckson a highway in Pikit town andlooted the passengers of their money andpersonal belongings.

Mayor Farida Malinko, of Pikit town, said banditsflagged down the bus around 5.30 a.m. on a higway near thevillage of Dalingawin and took an estimated 50 passengers hostage. She said the bus, owned by Weena Transit, was on its way to Davao City from North Cotabato when it was flagged down.

The MILF was linked by the military to a deadly bomb attack Mar. 4 in an airport in Davao City that left 21 people dead, including a USmissionary; and more than 160 injured -- three of them American nationals. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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