Zamboanga City – The biggest battle in 10 months between Philippine government forces and separatist rebels has broken out in Jolo, a heavily forested, mountainous island used as a base by the Abu Sayyaf group. The clashes have claimed the lives of at least seven soldiers and more than 20 rebels.
Brig-Gen Alexander Aleo, Jolo's military chief, said the latest fighting broke out on the night of Nov 11 when soldiers hunting for Radulan Sahiron, the one-armed, horse-riding commander of the Abu Sayyaf, were attacked by a group of bandits in Indanan near the rebel headquarters. Sahrion is on Manila's andWashington's most-wanted terrorist lists.
"We launched fresh operations against the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and fighting is going on. This is part of the government's campaign against terrorism," Brig-Gen Aleo said on Nov 13.
He added that renegade members of the former separatist rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, were aiding the Abu Sayyaf.
"We will get them sooner or later. There is no room for terrorists in Jolo and many Muslims are supporting and helping us. They are providing information about the Abu Sayyaf terrorists," said Brig-Gen Aleo.
The current fighting is the biggest to occur in Jolo since Feburary, when about 40 soldiers and dozens of guerillas were killed in a series of gunbattles in Panamao. The February violence was sparked by the alleged killings by soldiers of a Muslim family.
Abu Sayyaf, the smallest of four Muslim rebel groups in southern Philippines, is suspected of having links with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiah. It has been blamed for a wave of bombings in the south and Manila since 2002.
* 23 killed as rebels, army clash in Jolo (The Manila Times, Nov 14)
* Bloody Jolo battle rages (Philippine Daily Inquirer, Nov 14)