August 24, 2001, Inquirer, 2 dead as troops, kidnappers clash, by Edwin O. Fernandez, Inquirer News Service, Posted: 0:55 AM (Manila Time)
COTABATO CITY -- Government forces and a group of kidnappers who snatched several Chinese workers of the 3-billion peso irrigation project in Carmen town, in North Cotabato clashed anew Wednesday afternoon in the hinterlands of Columbio, Sultan Kudarat.
Major Julieto Ando, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division said the encounter, which occurred near barangay Bunawan and Polomolok, left two suspected kidnappers dead and a number of others wounded.
He said soldiers of the Army's 47th Infantry Battalion chanced upon the kidnappers, led by Abu Hamsa, during a pursuit operation, launched after the group shot to death two of their Chinese hostages on Sunday.
An armalite rifle was recovered from one of the slain suspects.
"We are on (the right) track against this kidnap gang, we will get them in due time," Ando told the INQUIRER.
But he could not say when the military could rescue the remaining hostages.
The military continued its operation despite an earlier threat from Abu Hamsa that remaining hostages Zhang ZungYi and Chinese-Filipino interpreter Edwin Lim would be executed.
At least 50 families residing in Columbio villages have fled to the town center for fear of being caught in the crossfire.
North Cotabato Gov. Emmanuel Piñol said he would personally ask President Macapagal-Arroyo to allow the Army engineers to complete the irrigation dam after the Chinese construction firm decided to pull out.
"This project must be completed because it will benefit mostly Muslim farmers in Maguindanao," Piñol told the INQUIRER.
"We should not allow a small fraction of Moro bandits to make the lives of Muslim farmers difficult due to lack of irrigation facilities," he said.
Pinol's pronouncement confirmed earlier reports that the China Import-Export Technologies (Citec) is pulling out of the project after the kidnapping.
"This 13-year-old dam has been used as milking cow of bandits, rebels and kidnappers… if the Army engineers do the work, nobody can harass them," he said.