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More MNLF men killed in Zamboanga fighting

ZAMBOANGA CITY – Fifteen more Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members were killed by government forces in clearing operations which started at 9 p.m. Thursday and ended early yesterday morning.

Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief, said that the MNLF fighters were killed during engagements in the “constriction areas” in the villages of Sta. Barbara and Catalina.

No losses were reported on the government side, he added.

Government troops recovered a wooden-hulled boat and some smaller sea vessels called “jungkung” on islet of Sumatra off the coast of Barangay Talon-Talon, which was used by the rebels as their camp.

The military believes that the vessels were used by the MNLF fighters coming from the provinces of Sulu and Basilan when they attacked Zamboanga City on Sept. 9.

Sumatra is nearer to Talon-Talon, but also accessible to Mariki through small inlets surrounded by mangroves.

Military reports disclosed that recovered from the vessel and “jungkungs” with blood stains were firearms and ammunition, MNLF uniform, maps of Zamboanga City, and vital documents.

The boat can carry more than 100 people and each “jungkung” has a capacity of 30 passengers.

Troops shelled the Sumatra area and other spots nearby with light artilleries starting 4:30 a.m. up to 5 a.m. on Thursday as the remaining MNLF Misuari loyalists led by Habier Malik retreated to the islet from Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina and Rio Hondo.

On Thursday, six more hostages were rescued by soldiers in the battleground and 45 more MNLF rebels were captured.

At least 60 evacuees, mostly residents of Barangay Talon-Talon, arrived in Cebu last Wednesday after hours of traveling from their home city to Dipolog onboard a cargo forwarder truck and then taking a rollon, roll-off boat that brought them to the shores of Samboan town, Cebu’s southernmost municipality.

Maria Teresa Kajal, who led her family and relatives in the exodus, said they decided to leave their homes as fighting between government troops and the MNLF continues.

“We did not bring anything, no extra clothes, no food, not much money as we scrambled to escape barangay Talun-Talun,” she said.

The decision to flee was made as they heard reports that some of their relatives in neighboring towns have already died due to the gunfights.

When the fighting briefly stopped, Kajal and 59 of her relatives fled Zamboanga City at 8 a.m. Tuesday. They arrived in Cebu City at 5 p.m. the next day.

Talon-Talon is located between barangays Magpag and Sta. Catalina, the two barangays that are the center of the ongoing fighting.

“We were caught in the crossfire. Wala kaming mapuntahan kasi puro nalang putukan,” said Kajal, a businesswoman who supplies fish products to establishments in Davao City.

Kajal has urged the government to provide them with food and clothing during their stay in Cebu. She said most of them owned small businesses in Zamboanga but decided to leave the place, including their houses and properties, to stay alive. (Nonoy Lacson, Mars Mosqueda, Jr. & PNA)