DUMAGUETE CITY -– At least four government troops and five alleged Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) rebels were killed in the early Tuesday encounter in Sitio Ibaya, Barangay Napo in Inabanga town, Bohol.
The government casualties comprised an Army lieutenant, two soldiers and a member of the Philippine National Police (PNP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT), said Lt. Dodie Belloga, commander of the 47th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army based in Bohol.
One soldier was also wounded in action, Belloga added.
Also, government troops recovered five bodies of armed men and confiscated four high-powered firearms, including three M-16 Armalite rifles and one M-4 rifle, he said.
In a telephone interview mid-afternoon of Tuesday, Lt. Col. Belloga disclosed that the joint Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP operation was carried out after they received intelligence reports of the presence of unidentified armed men, numbering more or less 10, in Bohol.
The government troops immediately set out at the break of dawn Tuesday to track down the said armed men, and while on patrol, an encounter ensued around 6:45 a.m., where the government forces immediately lost four of its troopers during the first volley of shots, he said.
Hot pursuit operations ensued as the police and military continued to close in on the rebels, he added.
An air strike by government’s F260 planes at the encounter site was launched hours later as hundreds of civilians in the area were made to evacuate to safer ground.
Lt. Col. Belloga said he earlier told the mayor of Inabanga and the village officials that residents must be evacuated so they would not be caught in the crossfire or used as hostage or human shield by the armed group.
The clashes continued sporadically until Tuesday afternoon as military and police personnel were determined to not allow any of the suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits to leave the island.
Lt. Col. Belloga appealed that the names of the slain military and police personnel be withheld yet, pending the notification of their families.
He said they are still trying to establish whether the presence of the armed men believed to be Abu Sayyaf bandits is directly connected to the intelligence reports that circulated since this past weekend.
The intelligence reports had said that the Abu Sayyaf, led by a certain Abu Rami, left Mindanao to carry out kidnap activities in the Visayas but without specific targets.
However, military and police authorities said that included in the possible targets are Cebu, Bohol, Negros Oriental, Apo Island, and Siquijor, due to their proximity to one another.
Lt. Col. Belloga said he believes there is still a number of suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits in Bohol as continuing firefight meant that the armed group still has strong firepower.
Meanwhile, he said the New People’s Army (NPA) is ruled out as suspects in the clashes because Bohol has been previously declared insurgency-free. Judy Partlow/PNA-northboundasia.com