ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Government troops succeeded in driving out of Tipo-Tipo town fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front who attacked and tried to occupy the municipality Monday. The rebels fled the town about 7:30 p.m., a military officer in the area told GMANews.TV.
Civilian sources in the municipality said about 15 MILF fighters were killed in the firefight. There was still no official or independent confirmation of the news.
Earlier, a top police official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) expressed fears that Tipo-Tipo has been taken over by the MILF.
Chief Superintendent Joel Goltiao, ARMM police director, said police forces in the town of Tipo-Tipo could not be contacted. He said MILF rebels might have taken control over the town about 4 p.m. Monday.
Firefights between government troops and the rebels erupted Monday morning in the area.
"Approximately [MILF rebels] have taken control over Tipo-Tipo (about) 4 p.m. since may contact pa kami sa aming tropa about 3 p.m.," Goltiao said.
Goltiao made the announcement as he confirmed that three policemen, including the police chief of Tipo-Tipo, were missing and "cannot be located." He, however, said there were no reported civilian casualties contrary to the statement of Tipo-Tipo Mayor Tong Istarul who said two civilians were killed.
The fighting started when about 300 MILF rebels swooped down on the town about 8:45 a.m.
Major Eugenio Batara Jr., information officer of the military's Western Mindanao Command, said sporadic fighting continued until Monday afternoon. A member of the Marine Battalion Landing Team-7 was killed while three others were wounded in the ensuing firefight.
Istarul said the rebels also torched some of the houses in the village of Tipo-Tipo Poblacion and occupied the police station. He described Tipo-Tipo as a virtual ghost town after civilians abandoned their homes and fled to safer grounds.
Meanwhile, reports of ballot snatching and non-appearance of election officials hindered the elections in Basilan. Reports said unidentified men snatched ballot boxes from the villages of Tumahubong and Baiwas in Sumisip town.
Tumahubong has 1,566 voters in five precincts while Baiwas has 330 voters in one precinct. The Comelec is set to conduct special elections for the two villages if the number of voters will affect the election results.
In the villages of Mangalut and Mangusu in the town of Akbar, the BEIs did not report for election duty Monday. The Comelec has appointed policemen and other civil servants to act as BEIs to assist voters from barangay Mangalut and Manguso, with 479 voters and 310 voters, respectively.
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