Sulu ‘massacre’ survivor claims seeing US soldiers

By Julie Alipala
Philippine Inquirer - Mindanao Bureau
First Posted 17:47:00 02/07/2008

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- American troops joined Monday's assault on a village in Maimbung town, Sulu, in which eight people, including two children and a pregnant woman, were killed, a survivor claimed.

Sandrawina Wahid said she saw four US soldiers when elite forces from Navy and the Army stormed Barangay (village) Ipil early Monday.

Wahid said among those killed by the government troops was her husband, Private First Class Ibnol Wahid, who was shot even after he identified himself as a soldier on vacation with his family.

Wahid said prior to the incident, which residents are calling a massacre, the soldiers burned down houses, including hers, and rounded up villagers.

"I was brought inside the Navy boat and I saw the US personnel," she said. Wahid said one of the Filipino soldiers blindfolded her.

"I asked him what the blindfold was for and he said so I will not see what's going to happen," she told reporters in Sulu on Tuesday.

But Major General Nelson Allaga, chief of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), branded Wahid's claim preposterous.

"There was no direct involvement of the Americans [during the operation]. It is strictly prohibited," Allaga said.

However, Sulu Representative Yusop Jikiri said the Maimbung incident is not the first in which US forces allegedly taking part in operations against suspected terrorists has been reported.

Jikiri, who called for an investigation, said during operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, US forces were also accused of direct involvement.

Sulu Governor Abdusakur Tan told the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) that among the units involved in the Maimbung operation was the Army's Light Reaction Company (LRC) and the Navy's Special Warfare Group (Swag).

The LRC is composed of Filipino soldiers who received special training from US forces during the Balikatan joint military exercises.

Tan said soldiers indiscriminately fired at the residents and killed the eight victims.

"I was informed that several residents were also taken from their houses and brought inside a Philippine Navy boat before gunfire was heard," he said. But Allaga stood pat on the military's claim that an encounter with the Abu Sayyaf took place in the village.

"The commanders on the ground maintain that the encounter in Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu was a legitimate encounter with the [Abu Sayyaf] terror group. In fact the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] suffered casualties," he said in a statement distributed to reporters here on Wednesday.

"The AFP adheres at all times to the rules of engagement, which is not to put any unarmed civilians in danger during fire fights and encounters," he said. But Tan, citing the result of his investigation, said the death of the two soldiers was due to "friendly fire" between the two units.

He said the information he got showed the Swag and LRC troops mistook each other for hostile groups and exchanged fire.

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