2 Lanao Norte towns under attack by suspected MILF

MANILA, Philippines – Suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels attacked two towns in Lanao del Norte province early Monday, prompting police in nearby Iligan City to go on heightened alert.

Iligan City Mayor Lawrence Cruz appealed to the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) hierarchy to send troops to his city to defend the residents.

“Sa ngayon ang heightened alert ang ating mga tao rito. Ilang municipalities from Lanao del Norte, ang Kolambugan at Maigo sinusunog ng MILF. Dahil dito ang information galing AFP kinumpirma, tayo naghahanda rin. Kung kailangan depensahan ang sarili gagawin natin (Our police forces are on heightened alert for now. We received word the MILF had attacked Kolambugan and Maigo towns in Lanao del Norte, so we are preparing to defend ourselves),” Cruz said in an interview on dzXL radio.

Citing reports reaching him, he said roads to Iligan City from Kolambugan and Kauswagan towns in Lanao del Norte, and from the cities of Ozamiz and Pagadian have been closed.

A military intelligence official confirmed that heavy fighting was on going in Kauswagan and Kolumbugan towns in Lanao del Norte since 4:30 a.m. Monday.

The same official said there have been no reported casualties so far in the skirmishes.

On the other hand, Army spokesman Lt. Col. Romeo Brawner said a convoy of the 104th Brigade was ambushed although no casualties were reported.

At the same time, Brawner denied reports that six priests have been seized by the attackers.

“Based on field reports, the priests just hid from the attackers. They have been accounted for,” Brawner told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

He said that as of posting time, troops are engaging the MILF forces headed by Commander Bravo, who has taken over the Kauswagan municipal hall. “We will consider them as criminals,” Brawner said. Appeal Mayor Cruz had appealed to commuters for understanding, adding it will be safer for them to stay home for the day. “Malakas ang bali-balita may mangyayaring malaking gulo. Kung totoo mas maigi sa tahanan (There is information indicating probable chaos. If this is true, it would be better for our commuters to stay home),” he said. But Cruz said that if the attacks were a message from the MILF to him, he said the city and its residents will not be cowed.

Iligan City is one of the areas whose residents have rejected inclusion in a proposed Bangsamoro Juridical Entity, as provided in a memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain. “Kung ito ang ginagawa nilang mensahe sa amin nagkakamali sila. Steadfast kami, dapat respetuhin ang tinig ng Iligan (If this is a message of the MILF to us, they are sadly mistaken. We remain steadfast against inclusion in the BJE),” he said.

Cruz also noted the MILF attacks came after the bombings of at least two inns Sunday, where at least three people were reported injured. Also Sunday, a 30-minute power failure hit the city but Cruz said this was a power trip-off and not likely related to the MILF. He said power returned to normal between 11 and 11:30 p.m. – GMANews.TV

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