CAMP SIONGCO, MAGUINDANAO, December 17, 2003  (STAR) By John Unson - Four more soldiers were killed in renewed clashes yesterday with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels reportedly coddling the kidnappers of a car trader, at the boundary of Talayan and Datu Piang towns in this province.

Officials of the two towns confirmed that 13 Moro guerrillas were killed in the firefight, four of them adolescents.

Lt. Gen. Roy Kyamko, commander of the Armed Forces’ Southern Command, said the four slain soldiers were part of an Army group blocking a possible escape route of the captors of 24-year-old car trader Norman Sia in Barangay Gawang, Datu Piang town.

He said MILF rebels, led by Commander Wahid, a known henchman of MILF chief Al-Haj Murad, attacked the soldiers while they were resting in an open field, triggering a two-hour firefight.

Sources from Datu Piang and Talayan’s political communities said the guerrillas also pounded with B-40 rockets a mosque near the scene of the gunbattle after the soldiers, although outnumbered, killed 13 of them with caliber .50 Barret sniper rifles.

Civilians in surrounding villages said they saw the rebels carrying nine of their wounded companions as they fled toward the Liguasan Marsh, a 220,000-hectare delta which the notorious Pentagon kidnap-for-ransom syndicate has been using as a "springboard" for its kidnapping activities.

Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said they have filed a formal protest against the MILF for the attack.

Senga said the soldiers could have succeeded in their pursuit of Sia’s captors if not for the assault by MILF forces at the Datu Piang-Talayan boundary.

Such a provocation, Senga said, was a serious violation of Paragraph 3.1.2, Article II of the government-MILF ceasefire agreement forged on Sept. 13, 2001.

The provision restrains MILF forces from embarking on hostile tactical maneuvers against government troops performing peacekeeping and police missions in areas covered by the truce, Senga said.

Brig. Gen. Agustin Dema-ala, commander of the Army’s 301st Infantry Brigade, said trouble erupted last Sunday when combined members of the MILF and the Pentagon opened fire on a group of soldiers searching for Sia.

Dema-ala said religious leaders and officials of Datu Piang and Talayan have confirmed the presence of Sia and his captors in a village between the two municipalities.

He said Sia’s captors are now being coddled by Amiril Ombra and Commander Talyo, both of the MILF.

Seven Pentagon members were killed while nine others, one of them a soldier, a certain Cpl. Edward Vionat, were wounded in Sunday’s skirmishes.

Dema-ala said the tension worsened last Monday when MILF and Pentagon members executed Cpl. Eric Jabing and a militiaman named Tawal Kiyambao, whom they captured at the height of the hostilities.

Sia was seized by three men who posed as car buyers while they were road-testing a Kia Pride he was selling them. — With Roel Pareño

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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