ZAMBOANGA CITY: Government troops clashed with communist rebels killing a still undetermined number of gunmen in the southern Philippines, officials said Friday.
Brigadier General Jonathan Ponce, commander of the 402nd Infantry Brigade, said the fighting erupted in the village of Rojales in Agusan del Norte’s Carmen town after troops engaged a group of New People’s Army in a running gunbattle.
He said there were no military casualties in the fighting and that troops under the 29th Infantry Battalion recovered three M16 automatic rifles, one Ak47 assault rifle, one Carbine rifle, one M203 grenade launcher, two homemade guns and two .45-caliber pistols and rifle grenades, including assorted munitions left behind by rebels.
“The fighting was fierce and there were reports that the NPA suffered casualties and based on the weapons we have recovered there could be substantial losses on the part of the rebel group,” Ponce told The Manila Times by phone from his headquarters in the province.
Ponce also praised the soldiers for their successful mission.
Communist rebels are still holding three policemen – PO3 Democrito Polvorosa, PO1 Marichel Contemplo and PO1 Junrie Amper – as prisoners of war since last year and have repeatedly demanded the pull out of troops in the neighboring Surigao del Norte province to allow their safe release.
The NPA recently released provincial jail warden of Compostela, Jose Coquilla, and also Pvts. Marnel Cinches and Jerrel Yurong in Bukidnon province in northern Mindanao for humanitarian reasons following their capture in August last year in Impasug-ong town; and also Pfc. Alvin Ricarte and Cpl. Benjamin Samano in Compostela Valley province.
There was no immediate statement from the NPA about the latest fighting, but the rebel group has been waging a separatist war for many decades now in an effort to put up a Maoist state in the country. AL JACINTO