240 families flee villages after Zamboanga Sibugay clash
ZAMBOANGA CITY — More than 1,000 people have sought refuge at a covered court in Barangay President Roxas in RT Lim, Zamboanga Sibugay, as soldiers continued to scour two coastal villages for remnants of an armed group from Basilan who fought government troops on Wednesday.
About 30 armed men, said to be members of the Abu Sayyaf, arrived in the town by pump boats early Wednesday. A firefight with troops from the Army’s 44th Infantry Battalion ensued, leaving five gunmen dead and two soldiers and scores of civilians wounded.
Reynaldo Inso Jr., village chief of President Roxas, said the military took over two subvillages to ensure that these were cleared of Abu Sayyaf gunmen.
No human shield
“Right now, these evacuees have to stay in the covered court, they sleep and eat here, until we are given approval to allow our people to return to their respective homes,” Inso said.
He clarified that the firefight did not take place in Purok Limuno but in Purok Nangka, which is 250 meters away. Limuno has more than 70 households while Nangka has 40.
“No family was used as human shield or hostage, the firefight and airstrike were aimed at the house owned by an ustadz (teacher) in Purok Nangka,” Inso said, referring to the house of Abdulsattar Aquilon, 46, who was among those killed in Wednesday’s clash.
Inso said he had no idea if the teacher was related to Idris Aquilon, who was killed a clash with soldiers in Barangay La Paz, Alicia town, on Sunday.
Inso said no one from their communities recognized the four other fatalities. “They are not from here,” he said.
Brig. Gen. Leonel Nicolas, commander of the Army’s 102nd Infantry Brigade, said the clearing operation would continue “until we are able to search through the possible hiding places of those who escaped.”
Nicolas said 240 families were staying at evacuation centers in the villages of President Roxas and Surabay.
“We cannot avoid that COVID-19 protocol is not followed [in evacuation sites] because of the sudden incident in our barangay. We hope the clearing ends soon,” Inso said.
Soldiers recovered firearms, bullets and materials for making bombs, like detonating cords, batteries, wires and blasting caps, in the clash site. — with a report from Leah Agonoy
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