2 killed as Moro rebels clash with government troops; 2,000 civilians flee

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ALEOSAN, North Cotabato, Philippines– At least two Moro gunmen were killed and two soldiers wounded when guerrillas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked an Army detachment on the border between  Maguindanao and North Cotabato, authorities here said. Fighting was continuing sporadically on Saturday afternoon.

North Cotabato Governor Emmylou Mendoza said earlier Saturday that at least 2,000 civilians had fled their homes because of the fighting.

The attack on Friday  prompted the military to launch a massive operation in Aleosan and nearby areas to flush out the BIFF forces and also to force foreign terrorists out of the BIFF areas.

Military and Moro Islamic Liberation Front officials had said that Zulkifli Bin Hir, a Malaysian bomb expert also known in other Southeast Asian countries as Marwan, was among terrorists hiding in BIFF-controlled areas. The BIFF is a breakaway faction of the MILF.

Colonel Dickson Hermoso, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the fighting between government forces and BIFF gunmen occurred in Barangay Bualan in Pikit, North Cotabato, and in Barangay Pagangan in Aleosan.

The two areas are situated near Datu Piang, Maguindanao, where the BIFF maintains a major camp.

He said militiamen had complained they were being fired at by BIFF forces from across the Rio Grande de Mindanao, which separates  Pikit and Aleosan from Datu Piang.

When soldiers were sent to reinforce the beleaguered militiamen, they too were fired on , Hermoso said.

He said BIFF members identified only as Sanday and Dimasangkay died in the ensuing battle while Sergeants Greg Sarte and Alexis Amando, both of the 40th Infantry Battalion, were wounded and were being treated at the Aleosan District Hospital.

Hermoso said more troops had been sent to the site  to secure the Aleosan and Pikit portions of the Cotabato-Davao Highway following intelligence reports the BIFF would take these areas.

Lieutenant Colonel Donald Gumiran, commander of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, said more clashes were taking place Saturday afternoon as more BIFF guerrillas had arrived in several other villages.

Hermoso said from the side of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, 60- and 81-millimeter mortars, and 105 howitzers had been fired to deter advancing gunmen.

With a report from Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

Related story:

6 killed in Cotabato City blast

Originally posted at 9:37 a.m.

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