ZAMBOANGA CITY - Punitive operations against Moro bandits who raided Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, almost two weeks ago were expanded as an elite police team was sent to islands around Sulu in pursuit of the raiders.
In Manila, President Ramos ordered the Philippine National Police yesterday to "isolate and crush the Abu Sayyaf bandits" by eliminating their access to their foreign terrorist supporters.
Reports reaching the Southern Command headquarters here said that so far a policeman had been killed in an encounter with bandits on Pata Island, Sulu, last Friday.
The identity of the slain policeman was not revealed until his next of kin has been notified. Military authorities said he was assigned to the elite Regional Special Action force.
According to reports, sporadic gun battles were still going on last night between the rebels and government forces.
Maj. Gen. Edgardo Batenga, Southcom chief, said pursuit operations against the joint Abu Sayyaf-Moro National Liberation Front fighters who remained in the Zamoboanga peninsula after the Ipil raid are still going on.
However, reports said government forces are having a hard time tracking down the bandits. Sources said Commander Jimlan Salvador, an MNLF Lost Command leader who has taken the leadership of the joint MNLF-Abu Sayyaf group, is from Tungawan, Zamboanga del Sur, and residents in the area have been giving the raiders sanctuary.
Batenga said another hostage, Gilbert Emperado, 16, has escaped. The bandits now have only 14 hostages, including Jocelyn Ortega, an engineer.
Of the original 50 hostages, six were killed, and 30 have escaped.
Residents here doubt whether Abu Sayyaf members or even MNLF guerillas perpetuated the Ipil raid.
Random interviews conducted by TODAY show that many of the people here believe that it may have been a military group or at least a military or police supported group that raided Ipil.
If the raiders were Muslims, the residents said, the banks in Ipil would not have been robbed and people would not have been shot indiscriminately.
However, Batenga said some residents here started believing the disinformation being spread by groups sympathetic to the Abu Sayyaf and the MNLF.
"The military and the police have no motive to raid and burn Ipil and indiscriminately kill its residents," Batenga told TODAY.
Ramos issued the directive after receiving a report from Gen. Recaredo Sarmiento, Philippine National Police Chief, who told the president that a captured Abu Sayyaf member confirmed the griup's links with the group of international terrorist Ramzi Ahmad Yousef.
Edwin Angeles said in a signed affidavit that Yousef, who is believe to be the mastermind in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, had met several times with the Abu Sayyaf.
Angeles also revealed that the Abu Sayyaf, supported by international terrorists, was responsible for at least 10 bombings of commercial and military establishments in the South and in Metro Manila.