20 killed in ‘preemptive assault’

October 14, 2002

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MANILA, Oct 13: At least 20 Muslim separatist rebels were killed in a “preemptive assault” launched by the Philippine army when its helicopters shelled the camp in a forested area of Sultan Gumander, while about 1,000 soldiers exchanged artillery fire with an undetermined number of MILF rebels on the ground, said Officer Servando of the Philippines army on Sunday.

Servando said the military earlier monitored that up to 700 armed men, including some members of the Abu Sayyaf rebel group, were massing up and conducting training in the camp.

Among the Abu Sayyaf rebels reportedly hiding in the area was commander Isnilon Hapilon, one of five rebel leaders wanted by the United States.

“There are intelligence information indicating that this group was planning some sinister action or operation,” Servando said. “This is the reason why the chief of staff ordered a preemptive assault on this training camp.”

He added that the military was preventing the rebels from “ruining” the security in Lanao del Sur, which hosts such vital installations as a major power plant that supplies up to 70 percent of electricity to the entire southern region of Mindanao.

The military has repeatedly accused the MILF of harbouring Abu Sayyaf rebels. But the MILF has denied any links to the Abu Sayyaf and even offered to help the government arrest the guerrillas.—dpa