Maguindanao clashes trap tribe members
SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao — About 1,600 members of Teduray communities here could not leave their homes in the towns of Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi Ampatuan as fighting continued between soldiers and Islamic State-inspired gunmen, officials said on Tuesday.
Fatima Kanakan, director of the Office of Southern Cultural Communities in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said these “lumad” (indigenous peoples) were trapped in their communities after clashes broke out on Christmas Day.
“They could not go out [of the] two sitios (subvillages) and we could not reach them for food and relief assistance,” Kanakan said. “We are worried over their safety. We are trying our best to reach them for food supplies.”
She said the trapped civilians were in the remote Sitio of Bagong in Barangay Maitumaig in Datu Unsay town, and in Sitio Kyamko on Hill 224 in Barangay Kabingi in Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Their villages are about 5 kilometers away from where government troops and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) are fighting in the contiguous villages of Maitumaig (Datu Unsay), Kambingi (Datu Saudi Ampatuan) and Kubentog (Datu Hofer town).
Kanakan said the residents were hesitant to leave for fear that they would step on landmines. She said a Teduray died after stepping on an improvised bomb on Dec. 26.
Relief workers from the ARMM Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-Heart) failed to enter the area to bring aid after the military advised them that BIFF men rigged the route to the two villages with explosives.
The military said 18 more Teduray houses were burned by BIFF members in Barangay Kubentog in Datu Hofer on Dec. 31, after setting on fire a dozen other houses in the village of Limpogo in that town on the same day.
Lt. Col. Gerry Besana, chief of the 6th Infantry Division’s Civil Military Operations Office, said the BIFF, led by Esmail Abubakar, who is also known as Commander Bungos, fired their guns indiscriminately while the burning was going on.
Besana said members of the 57th Infantry Battalion had been directing artillery fire toward Mt. Firis, considered holy ground for the Teduray lumad and straddling Datu Unsay, Datu Hofer and Datu Saudi Ampatuan towns, due to the presence of about 80 BIFF fighters there.
The military said the BIFF wanted to take over Mt. Firis because it was where their leader, Ameril Umbra Kato, launched the group in 2008.
Ramil Masukat, ARMM disaster risk reduction and management officer, said ARMM-Heart on Monday distributed relief aid and food packs to 1,780 Teduray in Datu Unsay.
Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu also ordered the distribution of 50 sacks of rice and other nonfood provisions to affected families, Lynette Estandarte, Maguindanao medical team leader, said.
The BIFF attacks on the Teduray communities in Maguindanao started when the military launched another major operation against the gunmen before Christmas.
Besana said the BIFF had suspected the Teduray to have provided information about their presence to the military.
On Christmas Day, the gunmen also razed three Teduray houses in the area.
On Dec. 29, BIFF gunmen seized six Teduray in Datu Hofer town but four of them escaped.
But the gunmen, on the same day, shot and killed Teduray leader Diego Met Dagadas in the upland village of Mt. Firis in Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, Maguindanao police director, said the local government had been aiding Teduray evacuees staying at the Datu Hofer town center.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, in a report in December, said the military operations against the BIFF in Maguindanao had displaced more than 11,000 families since August last year.
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