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May 8, 2000, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Basilan ambush 13 soldiers slain,

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 May 8, 2000, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Basilan ambush 13 soldiers slain,



ZAMBOANGA CITY--The Abu Sayyaf killed 13 soldiers and mutilated some of the corpses in an ambush in Basilan where the military has been pursuing Moro extremists to rescue hostages seized last March, the Agence France Presse reported yesterday, quoting military officials, survivors and doctors here.


The casualties were airlifted to the provincial hospital here just as President Estrada flew into this southern city to pin medals on soldiers wounded in previous clashes with the Abu Sayyaf.


Also yesterday, a ranking military official identified the two headless bodies found Saturday in a shallow grave inside the Abu Sayyaf's Camp Abdurazzak in Sumisip, Basilan, as those of teachers Dante Uban and Nelson Enriquez.


"That's confirmed," said Brig. Gen. Glicerio Sua, deputy chief of the Army's First Tabak Division. "We're just trying to check the weather [to see] if we can airlift the two bodies," he said. If the two bodies are indeed those of Uban and Enriquez, that would leave nine hostages still unaccounted for.


"We don't know the status [of the hostages], whether they are still alive or otherwise," Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Angelo Reyes said. But he vowed "to hunt them [the Abu Sayyaf] down to the last man." A soldier and militiaman who survived yesterday's ambush told the AFP that they heard "children crying" during the firefight, indicating that the rebel unit had with them at least some of the hostages still missing.


Twenty-two of the 31 people abducted in March were schoolchildren. The 13 soldiers who were killed yesterday were part of an Army special forces unit looking for the hostages when they came under attack from about 100 guerrillas in Barangay Kanimbungan in Lantawan town at 7 a.m. yesterday, Brig. Gen. Narciso Abaya, chief of the First Tabak Division, said.


Survivors' account


Cpl. Jobert Balajadia and militiaman Junai Toto, who were both wounded in the attack, told the AFP that they were informed that at least two soldiers had been beheaded by their attackers. Doctors at a nearby hospital said the eyes of some of the dead soldiers had been gouged out.


Balajadia, whose right foot was shattered by sniper fire, said he was among a company of special forces troops who were pinned down by Abu Sayyaf fire along a wooded stretch of road. "Two members of my unit were beheaded," while his company commander was among those wounded, he added.


Balajadia said the soldiers had set up an ambush position overnight on Saturday but decided to cross the road when the Abu Sayyaf unit they were tracking did not arrive. The Abu Sayyaf then sprang their trap. Balajadia said he hid by a nearby riverbank and waited for four hours before he was rescued.


Some of the rebels were armed with recoilless rifles, he added. Abaya, the area commander, told reporters that he believed the soldiers also inflicted casualties on the Abu Sayyaf during the ambush. Fighting was still raging in Lantawan at noon yesterday.


Abaya, who told the INQUIRER that eight soldiers had been killed and four wounded, said he could not as yet provide the names of the dead and injured as he was still waiting for reports from the battle site. An employee of at the Villa Funeral Homes here said eight dead soldiers had been brought there at noon yesterday while five more arrived at 2:30 p.m. The INQUIRER saw at least three dead soldiers at the Southern Command hospital here.




Basilan Gov. Wahab Akbar also said a militiaman had been killed in yesterday's clash. Akbar said Abu Sayyaf spokesperson Abu Ahman Salayuddin had sent feelers yesterday that he wanted "to surrender or to open negotiations with us."


"But I cannot decide, I will let people decide on this," he said. He added that some 5,000 people in Lantawan have fled their homes since government troops started their pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf. An Army raid led to the rescue of 16 captives last week, but the rebels slaughtered four hostages, including Claretian missionary Fr. Rhoel Gallardo who, the military said, was tortured first before he was shot in the back. Government troops have also ringed the jungle hideout of a second Abu Sayyaf unit, holding 19 foreign and two Filipino hostages in nearby Jolo. Reports from Julie Alipala-Inot, PDI Mindanao Bureau, and AFP

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