3 dead, civilians flee as Moro rebels attack Maguindanao, N. Cotabato areasInquirer Mindanao
DATU SAUDI, Maguindanao—Moro rebels simultaneously attacked military positions in Maguindanao and North Cotabato shortly before midnight Sunday leaving a civilian and two Moro fighters dead, four militiamen wounded and thousands of civilians fleeing.
Under cover of darkness, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), simultaneously harassed military detachments of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade in the towns Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Datu Piang, Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Ampatuan.
Military installations in Barangay (village) Kapinpilan, Midsayap and an Army-militia base in Pikit, both in North Cotabato, were also attacked by BIFF using rifle grenades and assault rifles.
Maguindanao Governor Ismael Mangudadatu said a still unidentified motorist was killed in crossfire along the highway in Datu Unsay.
Abu Misry, speaking for the BIFF, over the radio admitted they launched the simultaneous attacks “to retaliate the death of our comrade under the hands of the military.”
“It was not an offensive, it was only harassment to retaliate the atrocities committed by the Army against our comrade named Mohammad,” Misry said.
“What we did was hit and run and no more,” Misry told a radio station when asked whether they will strike again or not considering it happened during the fasting month.
He said the Army on June 23 occupied Hill 224, a known BIFF area in the borders of Guindulungan, Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay towns, which resulted in the death of “our brother Mohammad.”
He added that no civilian was killed in their “coordinated harassment against the military because we told our brothers and sisters to leave before we launch attacks.”
Von Al-Haq, MILF military spokesperson, told the Inquirer by phone that the BIFF offensive appeared to be “harassment attacks” because these targeted government troop positions in the said towns.
“The attacks were 10 or 20 minutes apart from each other. Based on the radio interview of the BIFF spokesman, they want to avenge the killing of their comrade and they point at an AFP soldier as the suspect,” he added.
Portions of the Cotabato-Isulan highway were closed to traffic while the military cleared the areas harassed by BIFF, according to Col. Mayoraldo dela Cruz, 1st Mechanized Brigade chief.
“Two of the attackers were killed in Datu Unsay town,” Dela Cruz said, adding that no casualty was reported on the government side.
“We have no casualty, we anticipated their attacks because our intelligence units have already alerted all our troops in all detachments,” he told the Inquirer.
Babay Weng, 59, a resident of Barangay Iginagampong in Datu Unsay, said three days before the conflict erupted they were already told by their village officials to prepare for evacuation.
“We didn’t believe because we were happy with the prevailing peace in our area and because today is fasting month,” Babay said as she and several mothers waited for government assistance at an evacuation site near Crossing Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Babay said she was praying that her house would be spared and their valuables intact after this conflict is settled.
The BIFF, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Movement and led by Ameril Umra Kato, were former MILF members but they are not covered by the existing ceasefire agreement between the MILF and government.
Kato is believed to be either dead or seriously ill to be able to physically lead the BIFF. He suffered a stroke November last year.
Due to differences with top MILF leaders, Kato formed the BIFF in 2010 but initially vowed allegiance to the group’s political goals.
By mid-2011, he formed the political front BIFM. He was eventually expelled from the MILF after a very lengthy process that included wooing him back to its fold.
Miriam Kawit, Maguindanao schools division superintendent, said she ordered school principals to suspend classes to ensure the safety of school children in Shariff Aguak, Ampatuan, Mamasapano, Datu Unsay and Datu Piang.
“We also advised parents not to send their children to school and wait for further notice,” she said in a radio interview.
“We also advised teachers not to proceed to affected towns for their own safety,” she added.
Colonel Roy Galido, 40th Infantry Battalion commander based in Aleosan, North Cotabato said BIFF forces fired rifle grenades toward a militia base in Barangay Kapinpilan, Midsayap. No casualty on our side and on the enemy side.
“The Muslim residents of Barangay Kapinpilan did not leave the village despite advise from BIFF,” Galido said.
“The Muslims told the BIMF fighters to stop firing at the militia base and they ceased firing.”
In Pikit, North Cotabato, four militiamen were wounded when BIFF forces fired shoulder fired rocket propelled grenades shortly before midnight Sunday. (Reports from Edwin Fernandez, Charlie C. Señase, Jeoffrey Maitem and Ryan D. Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao)