War evacuees told it’s safe to go homePhilippine Daily Inquirer
COTABATO CITY—Authorities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) yesterday gave the go-signal for villagers who fled clashes between renegade Moro rebels and soldiers to return to their homes.
The clearance was given although the renegades, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), continued to launch attacks on soldiers.
Members of the BIFF, a group formed by renegade Moro rebel leader Ameril Umra Kato, attacked a military detachment in Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, and wounded three soldiers.
But Col. Mayoralgo de la Cruz, head of the Army’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, said it was now safe for evacuees to return to their homes.
“We have already driven the rebels deep into the mountains,” said De la Cruz.
Mujiv Hataman, acting
ARMM governor, said a program for the return of the evacuees to their homes was being carried out.
The autonomous government, he said, would continue providing aid to the people until they are able to get back on their feet again.
The ARMM disaster management office said up to 40,000 people had been displaced by the fighting.
Loreto Rirao, ARMM disaster management office head, said “our program has shifted from relief [good] distribution” to sending evacuees home.
The military said it continued to hunt members of the BIFF even as evacuees were being asked to return to their homes.
Col. Prudencio Asto, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the manhunt for the BIFF members was more difficult because some of the renegades were being coddled by relatives in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
“Blood is thicker than water. We know that some are now hiding in the camps of the MILF,” said Asto.
Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, said he would neither confirm nor deny Asto’s statement.
He said, however, that the MILF continued to keep the door open for the BIFF members who want to return to the MILF fold.
“They can go back to us anytime,” said Iqbal of Kato’s followers.
Asto said the military was coordinating with village officials to isolate the BIFF members who hid their weapons and were hiding among evacuees.
“It would be difficult for us to quickly identify them,” said Asto. “That’s the reason we are doing this with village officials,” he said.
“We want the village chiefs to point to us one by one the real evacuees and those that are not,” said Asto. Edwin Fernandez and Charlie Senase