ZAMBOANGA CITY: Government troops clashed with communist rebels in the southern Mindanao province of Sultan Kudarat but there were no reports of casualties on both sides.
The weekend fighting erupted in the hinterland village of Hinalaan in Kalamansig town after villagers reportedly tipped off the military on the presence of New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the area.
The Western Mindanao Command confirmed the clashes and said troops recovered an M16 automatic rifle and four improvised explosives left behind by rebels. It said the fighting lasted about 20 minutes.
The gunbattle broke out barely two days after security forces captured four people, including a communist rebel leader Rommel Salinas, and Bishop Carlo Morales, of the Philippine Independent Church, and his wife Teofina, and their driver Sadome Dalid at military checkpoint in Ozamiz City in Misamis Occidental province.
Salinas is wanted by authorities for a string of murder cases and other high-profile crimes in western Mindanao. A grenade was also recovered by security forces from Salinas’ possession. The group was in a van when security forces flagged down the vehicle on intelligence report that it was transporting a senior rebel leader.
All four did not resist arrest and are being investigated separately by the police. It was not immediately known why Morales and his wife were with the NPA leader or if they were protecting Salinas.
Human rights group Barug Katungod Mindanao accused the military and police of planting the grenade and fabricated charges against Morales and Salinas, who is allegedly a consultant to the National Democratic Front negotiating peace with Manila.
The NPA has been fighting for many decades now for the establishment of a communist state in the country.