Gov’t forces retake strip of highway from Moro rebelsBy Edwin Fernandez
DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN, Maguindanao — Police and military authorities on Friday completely retook the Maguindanao-General Santos Highway from the hands of Moro gunmen identified with renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front commander Ameril Umra Kato and reopened it to traffic.
But the authorities were restricting use of the highway after sundown.
The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the reopening of the highway meant that relief operations could not go full-swing to assist some 33,000 individuals who fled the violence that started Sunday.
At around 11:30 a.m. on Friday, Colonel Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, and Senior Superintendent Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police chief, led soldiers and policemen in crossing a section of the highway in the villages of Iginagampong, Meta and Maitumaeg, all in Datu Unsay town, to symbolize the road’s full opening to traffic.
Guerrillas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the name of a faction of rebels who broke away from the MILF, had stood their ground on that section of the highway until Thursday.
“We have enough forces serving as road security,” Dela Cruz said when asked about the safety of travelers on the Maguindanao-General Santos City Highway. He added, however, that the military would only allow use of the highway only during daytime.
“As part of precautionary measures, the highway will be closed to traffic from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.,” he said.
Dela Cruz said the military’s retaking of the highway came after fierce fighting that on Wednesday and Thursday that, according to him, left 20 BIFF guerrillas dead.
“We based the casualty figure of BIFF to body counts by our troops and civilians in areas where they were buried by their comrades,” he said.
Dela Cruz said soldiers also managed to clear several villages in the municipalities of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Piang and Guindulungan but the military was still assessing conditions there.
“We could not decide yet if it is already safe for the evacuees to return to these cleared areas,” he said.
Dela Cruz said soldiers were pursuing the fleeing BIFF forces toward the Liguasan Marsh.
In North Cotabato, the military also announced that a section of the Davao-Cotabato Highway between Midsayap and Pikit towns had been sealed off to avoid civilians from being victimized by BIFF forces.
Colonel Roy Galido, chief of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion, said soldiers remained on alert for a possible spillover of the Maguindanao clashes into North Cotabato towns bordering on Maguindanao.
Tags: Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao , Autonomy , Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters , Maguindanao-General Santos Highway , Military , Moro Insurgency , Moro Islamic Liberation Front , News , Police , Regional Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council