Gov’t troops, cops retake highwayPhilippine Daily Inquirer
DATU SAUDI AMPATUAN, Maguindanao—Police and military authorities yesterday completely retook the Maguindanao-General Santos City Highway from the hands of Moro gunmen identified with Ameril Umra Kato.
The Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao said the reopening of the highway meant that relief operations could go full swing to assist some 33,000 individuals, who fled the violence that started Sunday.
Around 11:30 a.m. yesterday, Col. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commander of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, and Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, Maguindanao police chief, led soldiers and policemen in crossing the portion of the highway in barangays Iginagampong, Meta and Maitumaeg, all in Datu Unsay town, to symbolize the road’s full opening to traffic.
Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) forces had stood their ground on the said portion of the said highway until Thursday before retreating.
“We have enough forces serving as road security,” Dela Cruz said when asked about the safety of travelers passing by the Maguindanao-General Santos City Highway.
But he said the military would only allow the use of the highway 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 a fierce fire fight that left 20 BIFF forces dead on Wednesday and Thursday.
“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 barangays in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Mamasapano, Datu Piang and Guindulungan, but the military was still assessing the situation there.
“We cannot 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 the portion of the Davao-Cotabato Highway between Midsayap and Pikit towns was sealed off to avoid civilians from being victimized by BIFF forces.
Col. Roy Galido, chief of the Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion, said soldiers remained on alert for possible spillover of the Maguindanao clashes to North Cotabato towns that share borders with the said province. Edwin Fernandez, Inquirer Mindanao