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Dozens feared dead in Maguindanao clash between PNP, Moro rebels

(Updated 7:54 a.m., Jan. 26) SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao - A police operation on Sunday turned into a fierce and bloody firefight that left at least 30 elite police officers dead in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Sunday.
Dozens of government troops were killed in a “dusk to dawn” gun battle in the village of Tukanalipao between the troops of Philippine National Police Special Action Force and Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was joined by another rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
Mohagher Iqbal, Moro Islamic Liberation Front chief negotiator said the clash was triggered by lack of coordination on the SAF operation.
“There was no coordination,(nasagasaan din nila ang tropa namin) and they also engaged our troops nearby aside from the BIFF, that's how the bloody war started today,” Iqbal said over the phone.
Sources said the police operation was to serve an arrest warrant on Malaysian bombmaker Zulkifli Bin Hir, also known as “Marwan,” whose presence had been confirmed in the area. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has offered a $5-million reward for information on "Marwan."
Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan confirmed that loud gunfire and explosions were heard in the inner part of town. He said he immediately told his barangay captains to keep civilians safe.
“Two of my contituents were wounded and we are still working to evacuate those who are believed to be trapped civilians,” Ampatuan said.
A separate report said three civilians — two women and a man — had been killed in the fighting.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said the firefight started when police attempted to raid the suspected hideout of Basit Usman that was actually the house of a certain Ustadz Manan, a sub-commander of MILF 105th base command under Zacaria Goma.
“When the firefight broke out, our troops engaged the invading troops until we surrounded them in Barangay Manggapang, Mamasapano town," Mama said.
The BIFF bragged they recovered 10 high-powered firearms from the slain cops.
“At the moment, we have surrounded remaining government troops in Barangay Manggapang and, any time, we will strike,” Mama added.
The Army 1st Mechanized Brigade under Col. Gener Del Rosario deployed tanks along the highway but could not engage for fear of hitting civilians or police.
“We have no communication with the SAF in the area inside. At first, there was no coordination with us,” Del Rosario said.

The Army 6th Infantry Division and the Maguindanao provincial police also said there was no coordination with them on the SAF operation.
The soldiers nevertheless helped extricate the bodies of dead police officers after the joint International Monitoring Team and joint MILF- Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities came to calm the situation down.

‘Death toll could reach 50 people’

Meanwhile, a Reuters report, citing information from local officials in Mamasapano, said 27 police officers and five rebels were killed. Seven more police officers were unaccounted for and a further eight captured by Muslim rebels.
The death toll could reach 50 people, most of them from the police, the army sources said.

Col. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman, said no army unit was involved but they were helping recover police casualties in the area. Nine had been retrieved.
Government and rebel peace panels are now holding informal talks to defuse tension and prevent the incident from escalating and spilling out and threaten the entire peace process.
The last time the MILF clashed with security force was in November 2011 when troops raided a supposed Islamist militants lair. The peace talks with MILF nearly collapsed then. — with a Reuters report/JDS/KG, GMA News