5 KIDNAP GANG MEMBERS KILLED IN BASILAN

Zamboanga City, March 18, 2003 - - Five members of a Muslim kidnap gang were killed Tuesday after government troops assaulted their jungle hideout in Basilan.

Basilan army chief Colonel Bonifacio Ramos said one of the fatalities was believed to be Muntong Salih, a renegade "commander" of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), wanted by the military for helping bandits from the smaller Abu Sayyaf group carry out abductions in recent years.

The assault came after a tip from local villagers, who had complained of being harassed by Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

"We have been operating in this area based on information that we gathered from civilians and this is the result," Ramos said.

In nearby Jolo island, military OV-10 attack planes launched night-time bombings of Abu Sayyaf positions Tuesday, the local military commander said.

Colonel Alexander Aleo said this was the military's first night-time aerial bombing and credited training from US advisers last year for this capability.

It was not clear if there were any casualties in Jolo but the military hopes the bombing will force the Abu Sayyaf out of the jungle where they are still holding three Indonesian seamen and four Filipina Christians kidnapped last year.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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