THE government forces overran Sumatra Island early Thursday that served as the landing points of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels who infiltrated Zamboanga City last September 9.
Sumatra Island, which is part of Talon-Talon Village, fell into the hands of the government forces following an airstrike at daybreak Thursday.
Ground forces swooped down and occupied the island, which is thickly covered by mangrove, as the airstrike stopped. The island is accessible through Rio Hondo.
Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, public affairs officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said in an interview that the troops launched the assault following an information that a group of rebels are holed up in Sumatra Island.
Without giving specific numbers, Zagala said the rebel group in Sumatra Island was part of the main group but were not able to penetrate the city.
The rebel forces that comprise the main group were the ones who occupied the village of Sta. Barbara.
“The operation prevented them from linking with the other group in the mainland,” Zagala said.
Initial reports showed the ground troops have discovered four shallow graves, five watercrafts -- a motor launch and four motorboats locally known as "jungkung" -- ammunition, MNLF uniforms, and food when they overran Sumatra Island.
As this developed, government forces have captured 83 MNLF rebels while conducting clearing operations in the area of Sta. Catalina village.
Zagala said 38 of the 83 were captured Wednesday afternoon while the remaining 45 were captured from 10 p.m. Wednesday until daybreak Thursday.
In the process, Zagala said the troops have safely recovered six hostages, including four students.
Zagala said the death toll of the government forces increased to 24 as three soldiers were killed Thursday in a clash in the village of Sta. Catalina.
Zagala said the number of wounded also increased to 184 since five soldiers were also wounded in the same clash.
Zamboanga Peninsula police information officer Ariel Huesca said that 202 MNLF rebels were captured and 24 surrendered as of 8 p.m. Thursday.
Huesca said that one of those captured is a former councilor in the municipality of Talusan, Zamboanga Sibugay.
Huesca also said that 121 MNLF rebels were killed as of 8 p.m. Thursday since the start of the standoff last September 9.
The standoff started when hundreds of MNLF rebels infiltrated this city through the shores of Rio Hondo village and nearby villages.