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Fisherman dies, son hurt as US speedboat rams fishing boat off Basilan

(Updated 2:25 p.m.) A Filipino fisherman died while his son suffered injuries Wednesday night when their small fishing boat was hit by a US speedboat off Hadji Mutamad town in Basilan, a military official said Friday. Col. Ricardo Visaya, commander of the Philippine Army’s 104th Brigade and Joint Task Force Basilan, said the US soldiers' speedboat Mark V rammed the fishermen's boat around 7 p.m. The fishing boat had no lights so the soldiers did not notice it, he said. According to Visaya, the speedboat was on its way back to Zamboanga City after delivering medicines to Haji Mutamad town when the incident happened. “Our Special Forces requested for medicine for MEDCAP (medical and civic action program) in the island [province],” he added. Asked if the Americans admitted any liability, Visaya said: “You can’t say that they were at fault because it was dark. Although they have navigation equipment, the small boat suddenly appeared so you cannot really see it.” Visaya identified the fatality as Ahbam Juhurin. The fisherman's son, who was not immediately identified but was described as a young man between 20 to 25 years old, is being treated at the Armed Forces of the Philippines hospital in the Western Mindanao Command in Zamboanga City. Asked if the US soldiers would be held liable for the incident, Visaya said: “I believe it's already settled. The family [of the victims] accepted that it was really an accident. We know they are liable, but then it was all settled." An undisclosed number of US troops are working with Filipino forces in Mindanao against the Abu Sayyaf group, which is believed to have links with the Al Qaeda international terrorist network. The Americans are also providing intelligence information to Filipino troops under its Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. US Embassy condoles with victim's family Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Manila has offered its condolences to the family and friends of the victim, even as it insisted that the incident was unrelated to the annual "Balikatan Exercises." In a statement, US Embassy press attaché Tina Malone said, "I should point out that the boat incident was in fact unrelated to Balikatan." “During routine maritime activity on April 18 involving Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines (JSOTF-P) and Philippine security forces, their boat collided with a local fishing vessel... despite rescue efforts, one fisherman was killed," she said.   "We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the victim. We understand that appropriate authorities have begun an immediate investigation into the incident, and JSOTF-P is cooperating fully," she added. Bayan urges probe into death of fisherman On Friday, an activist group urged the Philippine government to look into the death of the Filipino fisherman. “This is not simply a police matter. A Filipino died because of the US troops operating in Mindanao. This is not the first time Filipinos have suffered injury because of these so-called US exercises and operations," said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. He added that other government agencies have to look into the culpability of the US troops in Mindanao. "The names of these US soldiers involved should be released and they should be prevented from leaving the country pending investigation,” he added. Reyes said that while the probe is ongoing, the Philippines should make an effort to stop US military exercises and operations all over the country. — LBG/YA, GMA News