THOUSANDS FLEE AS ARMY, NPA CLASH IN NEGROS
The Manila Times
More than a thousand residents were evacuated after sporadic gun battles between pursuing Army soldiers and fleeing New People’s Army (NPA) rebels ensued on Thursday in Sitio Sig-ang, Barangay Carabalan, Himamaylan City, Negros Occidental. Brig. Gen. Inocencio Pasaporte, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander, said that soldiers from the 94th Infantry Battalion went to the area civilians informed them of the presence of armed men. When the troops arrived at about 6 a.m., they were met with gunfire from the alleged rebels and a gun battle ensued for more than 40 minutes. The fleeing rebels left behind newly cooked food and other personal belongings at their harboring area. Traces of blood were also discovered along their escape routes, Pasaporte said. At around 3 p.m., Army soldiers caught up with some of the fleeing rebels that also resulted in a sporadic gun fight that led residents to evacuate. On Friday, Pasaporte discouraged residents from returning to the encounter sites for security reasons. He advised them to remain at the evacuation sites in Poblacion proper. More Army soldiers, in close coordination with other government security forces, were also deployed in the neighboring areas in pursuit of the fleeing rebels. Pasaporte said he believes that the rebels the government forces encountered on Thursday came from other areas in Negros Island to augment the remnants of Central Negros Front 2. The suspected rebels may have been consolidating their forces in the area, he said. Pasaporte cannot confirm if there are casualties on the side of the rebels. Local social welfare and development officials said the evacuees came from Sitio Sig-ang, Medel, Poblador, Sig-ang, Kampayas, and Yulayla in Barangay Carabalan. Other evacuees came from Sitio Tonggo in Barangay Cabadiangan. Around 60 individuals also fled across the town border late afternoon to Payao, in neighboring Binalbagan. Half of them were taken in by former mayor Emmanuel Aranda. Himamaylan City Mayor Raymund Tongson assured that “the government is in control of the services in the city.” Tongson said they are waiting for the advice of the military when they can proceed with the evacuation of other residents trapped in the ongoing pursuit operations of government forces. “We still can’t enter the areas of conflict to bring government relief to the trapped residents because of the ongoing operations,” the mayor said. Tongson called on the people “to pray, stay calm and help one another.” He admitted that he still has no details on the pursuit operations and the situation at the encounter site. “Right now, the city government is focusing our efforts in helping those who are currently at the Regional Evacuation Center at the Poblacion,” Tongson said. Tongson has suspended classes in the two affected villages on Friday. Binalbagan Mayor Alejandro Mirasol announced the same for Barangay Biao and Payao. Carabalan Barangay Captain Mildred Titular said that Sig-ang and Medel have been emptied of almost all residents. Most of them were brought to the main city evacuation site, while others opted to stay with relatives near the barangay center or the city proper. Tongson said they expect more evacuees to arrive. The CSWDO recommended bringing all evacuees to the bigger evacuation center, which serves as a forward post for the city. It also has facilities like a mess hall, kitchen, toilets and shower rooms for men and women, a clinic, and even a play area for children. Himamaylan has been the site of recent clashes between government troops and rebels.