SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao?Fear is gripping residents of this town after a succession of armed and attempted robberies hit houses here.
The armed heists were believed to be perpetrated by members of a militia that was identified with the Ampatuan clan but has been disbanded following the mass murder of 57 people in Ampatuan town.
On New Year?s Eve, police said they thwarted an attempt to rob the house of Yakub Ampatuan, mayor of Rajah Buayan town.
Superintendent Alexis Lenesis, Maguindanao police chief, said at least 20 hooded men were seen crawling to the mayor?s house but fled when police came near.
Bai Nariman Ambolodto, acting Maguindanao governor, said she met with police and other local officials over peace and security in the province.
Early yesterday, unidentified armed men broke into the house of a certain Norodin Kakim, a truck owner. Relatives said the masked gunmen beat up Kakim with Armalite rifles after taking cell phones, jewelry and money from Kakim?s house.
Helpers in Kakim?s house said a grenade exploded earlier at the back of the house near the National Food Authority warehouse here.
Residents said they believed the same group that robbed Kakim?s family was also behind the armed robberies on several houses here.
Yakub Ampatuan?s name is on the list of more than 600 officials and individuals charged with rebellion in a government bid to pin them down for the Nov. 23 mass murder.
But Yakub?s relatives said the attempted robbery on the mayor?s house was not related to the case.
Appeal for soldiers
Energy Undersecretary Zamzamin Ampatuan, younger brother of the mayor, confirmed the attempted armed burglary and asked government to help restore law and order by sending back soldiers here.
Military presence in the town was scaled down after President Macapagal-Arroyo lifted martial law in Maguindanao on December 11.
But Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the Eastern Mindanao Command, said the military didn?t pull out.
On Sunday, residents said government forces exchanged fire with gunmen scaling the fence of an extension office of Zaldy Uy Ampatuan, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, who is being held in General Santos City for alleged involvement in the mass murder.
Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong asked government to bring the military back to the province.
Residents said they couldn?t say which group was responsible for the robberies because the gunmen wore masks.
But a text message circulating here said the men were members of the disbanded civilian volunteers? organization, which had virtually served as the Ampatuans? private army.
The same text message named a former police officer, who is now under arrest for the November 23 mass murder, as being behind the gunmen. The officer is now out on bail. Inquirer Mindanao