Monday, December 14, 2009

Philippine troops kill one militant after jailbreak

Troops hunting for dozens of Islamic militants who made a stunning jailbreak on a southern Philippine island killed one of the escapees and recaptured another Monday

The weekend escape was the latest in an upsurge of violence on Basilan island that prompted the local government to call on President Gloria Arroyo to implement emergency rule there and send in more troops.

Much of the violence has been blamed on the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants accused of carrying out the nation's worst attacks, and whose members were among the 31 prisoners who escaped from Basilan's main jail.

"(We need) a state of emergency, if only to finish this once and for all, to apprehend and prosecute all of these Abu Sayyaf," Basilan vice governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul told AFP on Monday.

"We need more troops in the province."

As he made his appeal, soldiers and police fanned out across Abu Sayyaf strongholds on Basilan in search of the escapees.

Two of them were cornered in a jungle area that is known to be an Abu Sayyaf hideout, sparking a brief gunbattle, according to Basilan police commander Superintendent Abubakar Tulawie.

One of the escapees was killed in the clash, and the other was captured, Tulawie told reporters.

Authorities said over 100 militants stormed the poorly guarded Basilan jail before dawn on Sunday to secure the release of inmates. One prison guard and one of the militant raiders died during gunbattles.

About 20 of the escapees were Abu Sayyaf members, according to Sakalahul.

But two senior members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a bigger rebel group that has been fighting for an independent homeland in the southern Philippines, were also among those who escaped, Sakalahul said.

The MILF guerrillas had been jailed for their role in beheading 10 of 14 Philippine Marines snared in an ambush on Basilan in 2007.

Sakalahul said the MILF may have also been involved in organising the mass escape.

But the 12,000-strong MILF, which is holding peace talks with the government, denied it was behind the jailbreak.

"It is not the handywork of the MILF. That is very clear. The perpetrators apparently belong to the Abu Sayyaf group," MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told AFP.

US troops have been deployed on Basilan and other parts of the southern Philippines since late 2001 to train the local military in how to combat the threat from Muslim insurgents.

But kidnappings, murders and bomb attacks have continued throughout that time, and there has been a spike in violence in recent months.

One of three hostages kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf on November 10 was murdered last week, with his severed head dumped in a Basilan park.

The following day a college professor was abducted, and police again blamed the Abu Sayyaf, which is believed to have only a few hundred militants in total.

The Abu Sayyaf was also blamed for the beheading of a school principal on nearby Jolo island last month, just days before US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Manila to affirm security ties.

In September, two US soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb on Jolo in the deadliest attack on American forces so far blamed on the Abu Sayyaf.

Abu Sayyaf attacks have left at least 48 Filipino soldiers and 71 insurgents dead since January, according to an AFP tally based on police and military reports.

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