Responding militarymen face resistance from armed men in Balt Island
MARAWI CITY—Government security forces had not yet attempted to land on Balt Island off Bacolod Kalawi town in Lanao del Sur where armed men had docked after crossing Lake Lanao on Wednesday, the military said Friday.
Col. Romeo Brawner, the deputy commander of the Joint Task Group Ranao, said the initial objective during Thursday’s air strike on one of the large islands on Lake Lanao, was to destroy the boats that the gunmen had used to deny them the means of leaving the island.
On Thursday, two Augusta choppers fired rockets on at least four motorized boats that the gunmen had used in going to Balt Island, some three kilometers off Bacolod Kalawi.
Navy personnel and elite policemen on boats tried to approach the island following a series of air strikes, which lasted until around noontime Thursday, but they were met with volley of gunfire from automatic rifles and machine guns.
Brawner said the area had been cordoned off and the gunmen had no way of leaving the island undetected.
Mayor Mohaimin Dipatuan told reporters that the presence of the gunmen were reported by fishermen who were resting on the island on Wednesday.
The witnesses hurriedly sailed to the mainland after they saw several armed men on four boats docking on Balt Island, he said.
“They saw about seven armed men. They immediately alerted village officials, who in turn told me about the development,” Dipatuan said.
He said he relayed the information to the military, which conducted the air strike starting early Thursday.
Dipatuan said the identity of the men, who were heavily armed, were not clear but he said they spoke Maranao, based on what fishermen had told village officials.
Dipatuan said it was also not clear where the armed men had come from or where they had intended to go.
“We still don’t know if they intended to reinforce those in Marawi or they were fleeing the battle,” he added.
But Brawner said the military believed that the gunmen had planned to enter the city to reinforce militants fighting government forces.
“They’re heading here,” he said.
In recent days, the military intercepted armed men trying to sneak into Marawi City.
On August 28, government security forces killed 10 gunmen, who were trying to enter the besieged city via Lake Lanao. /jpv