• New Cotabato bombing injures two

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    ZAMBOANGA CITY: A bomb explosion injured several people in

    Cotabato City in southern Philippines where security forces are battling separatist rebels in the restive region, officials said on Friday.

    In Davao City, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte called on the rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to stop its plan to bomb Mindanao key cities, including Davao.

    Official said the blast in Cotabato City late on Thursday occurred near the Petron gasoline station in downtown Cotabato, which wounded at least two students. The wounded were rushed to the Cotabato Regional and Medical Center.

    Other reports said several more were slightly injured in the bombing near Sinsuat Avenue. The blast occurred just as people were returning home from work.

    Captain Jo Ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the 6th Infantry Division, said a 60 mm mortar exploded along Sinsuat Avenue, injuring Leslie Encina, 18, and Kristel Mae Uy, 20.

    She said an unidentified man hurled the improvised explosive. Soldiers on a passing military truck witnessed the incident, she said. “According to one of the soldiers, he saw a person throw a package which eventually exploded,” Petinglay told The Manila Times, adding the police were investigating the blast.

    No individual or group claimed responsibility for the attack, but police and military have previously blamed the BIFF for the spate of bombings and ambuscades in the troubled Muslim autonomous region.

    The attack occurred as Philippine military chief General Gregorio Catapang inspected troops of the 6th Infantry Division in nearby Maguindanao province.

    A lone BIFF member also killed three soldiers with the army’s 9th Intelligence Service Unit on November 18 in the town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao. The rebel killed an army major and two privates who were traveling in a car. The soldiers also lost their weapons and a laptop computer to the attacker. Their identities and details of the attach were withheld by the 6th Infantry Division.

    It was the second attack in recent days in Maguindanao when some 500 rebels also assaulted the detachment of the 45th Infantry Battalion in the village of Sapakan in Rajah Buayan town. The attack sparked a six-hour firefight that wounded Corporal Charlie Dilangsoy North Cotabato’s Midsayap town.

    Duterte appeal

    Duterte on Thursday made an appeal to the BIFF to stop the bombing of Mindanao cities following reports of the alleged plan of the rebel group to conduct a series of bombings across Mindanao. Authorities believe the bombs that exploded in the town of Kabacan and Maramag in Bukidnon were the handiwork of the BIFF.

    The Kabacan explosion last week resulted to the death of a female university student, and the wounding of at least 15 others. The explosion in Bukidnon resulted to the wounding of several other people.

    The Provincial government of North Cotabato is offering a P200,000 reward for the capture of the suspects in the Kabacan bombing.

    “As your governor, I am hurt and angry,” said Gov. Emmylou Mendoza of North Cotabato.

    “The government invested so much resources and developmental programs to bring peace and order in Cotabato. Unfortunately, there are those who want to sabotage all our sincere efforts. I ask every Cotabateño not to succumb to fear, but stand our ground against those who bring conflict and criminality in our province. Christians, Muslims and Lumads should not allow animosity to divide Cotabato,” she added.

    She called on the public to be vigilant.

    “Join me in embracing peace as we demand justice for all the victims of this senseless adventurism,” she said.

    On Tuesday, a bomb was discovered hidden in the overhead luggage rack of a bus traveling to Butuan City. The bomb was detonated when the bus reached the town of Nabunturan in Compostela Valley province.

    “This is our worry. We never really denied that we are facing very dangerous times. We always condemn criminality, but on this, we can only prepare,” Duterte said.

    Davao City has been placed on heightened alert.

    Major General Eduardo Año, head of the 10th Infantry Division, said bomb attacks can be foiled with the cooperation of the public.

    “We call on the public to report any suspicious people or packages within the surroundings,” he said, adding that the intelligence community has intensified information gathering.

    Duterte has urged the rebel group to stop its bomb attacks.

    “Please stop these attacks. You have to consider the lives of civilians,” he said.

    BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama earlier told the media that their group had no hand in the North Cotabato bombing. He also said that the BIFF does not target civilians.

    WITH REPORT FROM JEFRY M. TUPAS

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