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Fighting erupts in Basilan between army and MNLF, other armed groups

(Updated 6:51 p.m.) — Three days after attacking Zamboanga City, members of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) have joined forces with other armed groups and engaged government troops in a firefight in Basilan province, officials reported.

The firefight started about 9 a.m. Thursday between Army Scout Rangers and a still undetermined number of MNLF gunmen in Barangay Campo Uno in Lamitan City, Senior Superintendent Mario Dapilloza, Basilan provincial police director, told GMA News TV's "News to Go" program.

Three soldiers were wounded in the clash: Pfc Ruel Martinez, Pfc Wilvan Caro, and Army Master Sgt. Ernesto Landagura – all of Barangay Colonia, Dapilloza said in a later report.

In a separate interview with dzBB radio, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Gov. Mujiv Hataman said six people were wounded in the firefight between the Scout Rangers and combined forces of the MNLF, the bandit group Abu Sayyaf, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

The BIFF is a breakaway armed group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which is presently engaged in peace talks with the government for a new Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

It was not immediately clear if the MNLF members involved in the Basilan firefight are allied with the forces that attacked Zamboanga City last Monday, who were reported to be part of a faction led by the rebel group's founder Nur Misuari.

The standoff in Zamboanga City entered its fourth day Thursday, with the situation still tense and police and soldiers maintaining strict checkpoints, dzBB's Benjie Liwanag Jr. reported.

Citing initial information reaching his office, Hataman said the armed groups involved in the Basilan firefight were members of the "Abu Sayyaf at may mangilan-ngilan na may hawak ng BIFF doon at mangilan-ngilan na MNLF."

Two members of a government-aligned civilian volunteer organization and one soldier were "slightly wounded," Hataman said. "Sa kabila may tatlong tinamaan."

Meanwhile, around 150 Abu Sayyaf members engaged government troops in a firefight in Barangay Colonia in Lamitan, Basilan Thursday morning.

At least one member of the Civilian Volunteers Organization was killed, while two CVOs, two soldiers and a civilian were wounded.

Three rebels were also killed while seven were wounded, according to Col. Charlie Galvez, 104th Brigade Commander in Basilan.

Gunfight in Tipo-Tipo

A separate report from the Army said an earlier firefight was reported in Valentine Detachment in Barangay Magcawa, Tipo-Tipo town, between government forces and some 50 armed men believed to be members of the Abu Sayyaf group and MNLF.

Soldiers stationed at Sitio Camalig, Bohe Paho in Ungkaya-Pukan town provided support to the Army detachment at Tipo-Tipo at 7:10 p.m. Wednesday, according to Capt. Jefferson Somera, spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

More than a thousand MNLF members are estimated to be based in Basilan, police director Dapilloza said.

Security forces had received intelligence reports about the movement of MNLF forces to Lamitan, prompting them to make necessary adjustments to prevent surprise attacks.

“Ilang days na rin yung preparation natin sa area,” said Dapilloza. — with reports from Andrei Medina and Marc Jayson Cayabyab /LBG/KG/RSJ/YA/BM, GMA News