By Edwin Fernandez and Noel Punzalan, PNA
KIDAPAWAN CITY — Clashes erupted between government forces and communist rebels in the border of two towns in North Cotabato Tuesday morning, prompting thousands of civilians to flee to safer grounds.
The firefight between elements of the Army’s 19th Infantry Battalion and communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in the boundary of Antipas and Magpet towns also left two soldiers and a civilian slightly wounded.
Captain Jose Marie Molina, the Arakan town police chief, said the injured soldiers, Corporals William Agno, and Jerome Sarayno, were airlifted by Huey helicopters from the battlefront in Sitio Tiwayan in Barangay Badiangon of Arakan to a local medical center.
A civilian farmer, Jonel Bayaan, was hit by stray bullets when the firefight erupted at about 9 a.m. Tuesday and is now confined at the Amas provincial hospital in Kidapawan City.
Molina said the rescue vehicle of Arakan that carried the wounded soldiers were also ambushed by communist rebels in Sitio Anuling, Barangay Badiangon at about 9:30 a.m. that triggered another firefight.
Molina added that the rebel group have suffered many casualties as evidenced by blood stain in their escape routes.
He said personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development are now on the ground and started providing emergency relief assistance to affected families.
“The total number of displaced families is still being validated,” he said, adding that sporadic fighting continued overnight in the periphery of Arakan and Magpet.
Under election laws, the local government could not extend relief assistance to displaced families during the campaign period for May 13 mid-term polls.
North Cotabato police spokesperson, Lt. Col. Bernard Tayong, said the police across the province have been placed on heightened alert for possible diversionary attacks by the communist rebels.
The United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines have declared the Communist Party of the Philippines together with the NPA, its armed wing, as a terrorist organization.(PNA)