Troops hunting for dozens of militants who made a stunning jailbreak on a southern Philippine island killed one of the escapees and recaptured another, police said. The weekend escape was the latest in an upsurge of violence on Basilan island that prompted the local government to call on President Gloria Arroyo to implement emergency rule there and send in more troops. Much of the violence has been blamed on the Abu Sayyaf, a small band of militants accused of carrying out the nation's worst attacks, and whose members were among the 31 prisoners who escaped from Basilan's main jail.
"(We need) a state of emergency, if only to finish this once and for all, to apprehend and prosecute all of these Abu Sayyaf," Basilan vice governor Al Rasheed Sakalahul said. "We need more troops in the province." Soldiers and police fanned out across Abu Sayyaf strongholds on Basilan in search of the escapees and cornered two of them in a jungle area, sparking a brief gun battle, according to Basilan police commander Superintendent Abubakar Tulawie. One of the escapees was killed and the other was captured, Mr Tulawie said.
Authorities said over 100 militants stormed the poorly guarded Basilan jail before dawn on Sunday to secure the release of inmates. One prison guard and one of the militant raiders died during gun battles. About 20 of the escapees were Abu Sayyaf members, according to Mr Sakalahul. But two senior members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a bigger rebel group that has been fighting for an independent homeland in the southern Philippines, were also among those who escaped, Mr Sakalahul said.
The MILF guerrillas had been jailed for their role in beheading 10 of 14 Philippine Marines snared in an ambush on Basilan in 2007 and may have also been involved in organising the mass escape. But the 12,000-strong MILF, which is holding peace talks with the government, denied it was behind the jailbreak. US troops have been deployed on Basilan and other parts of the southern Philippines since late 2001 to train the local military in how to combat the threat from Muslim insurgents.
But kidnappings, murders and bomb attacks have continued throughout that time, and there has been a spike in violence in recent months. One of three hostages kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf on November 10 was murdered last week, with his severed head dumped in a Basilan park. In September, two US soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb on Jolo in the deadliest attack on American forces so far blamed on the Abu Sayyaf.
Abu Sayyaf attacks have left at least 48 Filipino soldiers and 71 insurgents dead since January, based on police and military reports. It is also blamed for the bombing of a ferry in Manila Bay in 2004 that killed more than 100 people, the nation's worst such attack in recent times. * AFP