MAGUINDANAO: US troops deployed in southern Philippines helped in the rescue of police commandos who clashed with rebels in Maguindanao.
American soldiers on helicopters evacuated wounded policemen from the town of Mamasapano.
Civilians retrieved at least 43 bodies of the commandos. But more bodies were still being retrieved in the remote village of Tukanalipao, according to officials. Some reports said 52 policemen were killed in the clashes on Sunday.
Mayor Tahirodin Benzar Ampatuan said they turned over 35 bodies to the police.
“There are still more cadavers in the area and we are trying to recover them,” he told The Manila Times.
Ampatuan said the police did not inform or coordinate with local officials when they launched an operation in Tukanalipao.
He denied reports that two wanted terrorists were hiding in the town.
“What the police raid[ed]was the 105th Base Command of the MILF,” Ampatuan said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the 6th Infantry Division said the police failed to inform or coordinate with them. The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, also attacked police commandos, killing more than a dozen of them.
The MILF, which signed a peace deal with Manila last year, blamed the police for the breakout of violence.
“There were fierce clashes. Police forces attacked the MILF at two o’clock in the morning and our forces have to defend themselves to save their lives,” MILF Vice Chairman and chief peace negotiator Mohagher Iqbal also told The Manila Times.
Ghazali Jaafar, also an MILF vice chairman, said he was saddened by the clashes because they happened at a time when Congress is deliberating the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Philippine National Police only “coordinated at the tactical level” for lack of time.
He added that the policemen had informed the Philippine Army about their operation.
Meanwhile, the military’s Public Affairs Office chief, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, appealed to the BIFF, a breakaway group of the MILF, to release the PNP personnel who are in their custody.