To reach evacuation centers, around 1,000 civilians ask for 2-hour ceasefirePhilippine Daily Inquirer
COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Some 1,000 people trapped on a hill in Barangay Kabingi in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao are asking the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) for at least two hours of ceasefire so they can safely pass toward the evacuation center, a government official said Tuesday.
This developed as the police reported the bodies of two off-duty soldiers—who were seized by BIFF forces on Sunday—had been recovered as clashes continued.
Pombaen Karon-Kader, assistant secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said the trapped villagers could not continue trekking to evacuation centers in Datu Unsay for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
“They are asking for a ceasefire so they can come down,” she said.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu said he had earlier called for a ceasefire as many civilians were trapped in the fighting.
“Up to now our request for a ceasefire remained unanswered,” Mangudadatu said.
Col. Prudencio Asto, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, did not comment on the call for ceasefire but said efforts were underway to rescue the trapped villagers.
“We assure the public that their safety is our utmost concern,” Asto said.
Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, rejected the call for ceasefire, adding that their forces would continue their attacks, which were prompted by the recent death of a senior member from the hands of what he termed as a “military sniper.”
As this developed, two explosions said to be related to the clashes took place in North Cotabato and Maguindanao on Monday and Tuesday. No one was injured in the explosions that took place in a span of less than 48 hours.
On Monday, an improvised explosive device went off in front of a para-military detachment in Barangay Tinibtiban in Pikit, North Cotabato.
At 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday, an IED also went off at a roadside in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, only a few minutes after a passenger bus had passed.
Earlier in the day, police bomb experts in Midsayap, North Cotabato foiled a bombing attempt by still unidentified men when they defused a powerful IED fashioned from 81 millimeter mortar with mobile phone as trigger mechanism.
The IED was left by the suspects in front of a vulcanizing shop along Sto. Nino Street.
Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police director, said five persons had been killed since fighting erupted following Sunday’s BIFF attacks in the towns of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Piang and Guindulungan towns.
They included two off-duty soldiers, two BIFF members and a civilian.
“The two soldiers were off duty, they were flagged down by BIFF rebels, who occupied portions of the highway in Datu Unsay,” he said.
Pintac said the bodies of the soldiers, whose hands were tied to their backs, had been recovered.
Moro leaders, including from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), had denounced the BIFF attacks.
Mujiv Hataman, governor-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) said the attacks were deplorable, especially so that it happened in the month of Ramadan.
“Ramadan is when Muslim families fast and everybody hopes for prosperity and peace,” he said.
Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong said the attacks were uncalled for at a time when efforts were geared toward a peaceful resolution of the decades-old Moro conflict.
Ghazali Jaafar, MILF political affairs chief, said the attacks resulted in more hardships for many Maguindanao families.
Over 2,000 families—many of them had just resettled after fleeing similar violence in past years—had so far evacuated to safer grounds and were being assisted by social welfare, Karon said.
The BIFF is a breakaway group of the MILF and founded by Ameril Umra Kato.
Kato broke away from the MILF in 2010 after serious disagreements over the peace process.
Meanwhile, Asto said soldiers were conducting clearing operations along the Maguindanao highway to allow stranded vehicles to pass.
The highway links Cotabato City and Maguindanao to Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato provinces, including General Santos City. Edwin Fernandez, Charlie Señase and Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao