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9 dead in clash between ASG, troops in Bohol

Government troops were locked in battle with a small group of suspected Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) fighters yesterday in Bohol, a week before ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) converge in nearby Panglao Island.

At least nine have died in the ongoing clash in the mountainous barangay of Napo in Inabanga, about 71 kilometers from Tagbilaran, Bohol’s capital city.

A joint military-police statement said five ASG fighters, three soldiers, and a policeman were killed in the day-long clash that started at 5:20 a.m.

This was confirmed in a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City by Armed Forces spokesman Marine Col. Edgard Arevalo, who said the troops encountered at least 10 ASG gunmen.

Government troops seized three M16 and M4 rifles and an improvised explosive device (IED) in the clash site. It marked the first time ASG men were spotted in the island, roughly 700 kilometers from Basilan and Jolo, their base of operation.

Inabanga Mayor Josephine Jumamoy confirmed the encounter, although information was sketchy because the area does not have cellphone signal.

The presence of the notorious ASG was detected Monday night through the help of residents who immediately informed the police. Witnesses said the ASG gunmen arrived in three pump boats.

SPO4 Pepito Tradio, officer-in-charge of the Inabanga police station, immediately informed the provincial office which formed a joint team of soldiers and policemen to verify the report.

The joint statement was signed by Centcom Commander Lt. Gen. Oscar Lactao and PRO 7 director Chief Supt. Noli Taliño.

AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Ano said elements of the Army 47th Infantry Batallion, led by 2nd Lt. Estelito Saldua, and members of the Bohol Provincial Police Office (BPPO) and the Regional Public Safety Batallion (RPSB) were involved in the firefight.

Ano said additional forces were sent to assist government trips.

“Security forces reported that the armed group is well armed with heavy caliber weapons, but are now cornered in an isolated section of the sitio,” Ano added.

A military source said the group is reportedly led by Muammar Askali, alias “Abu Rami,” who was previously monitored in Sindangan, Zamboanga del Norte.

The encounter has put in peril the holding of the second leg of the ministerial meetings of the ASEAN Summit set April 19-22 in the resort island of Panglao. (FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD • MARS W. MOSQUEDA JR.)