The governor of Sulu has declared it to be free of Abu Sayyaf militants, but analysts warn that the group’s top leaders remain at large while private armies hired by politicians’ strike fear among people in the southern Philippine province.

Sulu Gov. Abdusakur Tan, who chairs a task force of military and local government officials, last week announced that the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) had been wiped out in Sulu, a chain of islands in the far south near the Malaysian part of Borneo. This marked “a significant accomplishment in our never-ending quest for stability, security, and peace,” he said.

Analysts, however, are more guarded in assessing the status in Sulu of the group linked with Islamic State (IS) extremists, and that was tied to a string of suicide bombings until 2020. While the province has managed to improve its security, the national government has refrained from making a similar assertion, according to the observers.

“Why is it that in the higher-ups of the government at the national level there is no recognition that there indeed is no more Abu Sayyaf in Sulu?” Julkipli Wadi, dean of the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Islamic Studies, said in an interview with a local radio station.

Some analysts also are warning about other “forces of terror” that are operating in the Sulu Islands – specifically small private armies kept among local politicians.

Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Ignatius Patrimonio, commander of the Sulu task force, cited the voluntary surrender of 966 alleged bandits and the recovery of 559 firearms from 52 villages as a sign that conflict had subsided in Sulu. “This will bring forth development and will boost the ecotourism of the province,” he said.

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