Davao City, March 16, 2003 -- Warrants have been issued for the arrests of Moro Islamic Liberation Front chairman Hashim Salamat and 144 other MILF guerrillas over the Davao airport bombing last March 4 that left 22 people dead and 159 wounded.

The warrants were issued late Friday by Regional Trial Court Branch 12 Judge Paul Arcangel, who said there was sufficient basis to file charges of multiple murder and multiple frustrated murder against the MILF leaders.

Aside from Salamat, arrest warrants were also issued for MILF vice chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar, vice chairman for military affairs Al Haj Murad, spokesman Eid Kabalu and 144 other MILF leaders and guerrillas.

The court also ordered the continued detention of Terso and Undungan Sudang, father and uncle respectively, of alleged suicide bomber Montasher Sudang.

Authorities detained the elder Sudangs a day after the bombing on suspicions that they were among those tasked to accompany the slain suspect in the operation.

Top leaders of the MILF went into hiding shortly after the government filed the criminal charges three days after the bombing. Security officials have vowed to capture MILF leaders once the arrest warrants are issued.

The MILF, through Kabalu, said they will just ignore the warrants, claiming the charges filed against them were based on evidence "manufactured" by the military.

City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, for his part, called on Salamat and his henchmen to come out and prove their innocence by producing the real culprits.

"If the suspects are with you, produce them. Justice has to be done to those who have been victims of such dastardly acts," he said.

The military has blamed the MILF for the series of bombings in Mindanao.

Even as the MILF continued to deny the accusations, it vowed retaliatory attacks against the government after Buliok complex, the rebels' main stronghold in Pikit, North Cotabato fell into government control last month.

Thirteen of about 100 rebels were killed by government troops while trying to slip into the town proper of Midsayap, North Cotabato early yesterday, the military said.

Col. Cardozo Luna, commander of the Army's 602nd Brigade, said MILF guerrillas were retreating from their attack position from Buliok complex when they were initially spotted by militiamen, triggering a firefight.

Village officials said the rebels retreated toward Maguindanao dragging along the bodies of their slain comrades, including a foreign-trained commander identified only as a certain Salilaguia.

Villagers said Salilaguia and his companions, apparently exhausted and depleted of ammunition, fled on foot from their positions in Buliok, abandoning their attempt to retake their former enclave.

They said Salilaguia were bringing along eight guerrillas wounded in sporadic clashes with government defenders in the complex when they were spotted by militiamen.

The hostilities in Midsayap was followed by a brief gunbattle between rebels and members of the 8th Marine Battalion Landing Team in Barangay Manipol in Pagalugan town, Maguindanao, which also left three MILF killed.

The military said Marines chanced on the rebels rigging improvised landmines on a trail connecting the two isolated villages in Barangay Manipol.

The slain rebels were identified by villagers as Nando, Guiday and Akmad, known followers of Abu Solaiman, a bomb expert trained in Afghanistan.

Three soldiers were also wounded after rebels simultaneously attacked two Army detachment in Barira town, Maguindanao early yesterday.

Over 200 rebels have been killed following three successive assaults by the MILF since Monday last week to recapture Buliok complex, their former stronghold in Pikit, from the military.

Reports from Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City indicated some of the rebels still pressed on their attacks to recapture the complex.

The rebels were forced to retreat after government troops defending Buliok returned fire, supported by two OV-10 "Bronco" bombers and two MG 520 attack helicopters.

In an apparent attempt to take the heat off from the attackers, MILF rebels have continued to topple power transmission towers in various secluded areas in Mindanao almost everyday.

National Power Corp. (Napocor) Southern Mindanao area manager Adolfo Mirasol said the rebels have not ceased attacking power transmission pylons, most of them located in Cotabato and Lanao provinces.

"But we make it clear that our task is to assure the technical aspect of the operations while we leave the security measures to the military and the police," he said.

Napocor, Mirasol said, would immediately go on "island mode" operation if another major power breakdown, such as the Feb. 26 blackout, occurs. (Star)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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