Clashes between Army, BIFF disrupt classes in Cotabato
KIDAPAWAN CITY—Education officials have suspended classes for more than 6,000 schoolchildren at 13 villages in Pikit town, North Cotabato province, since Thursday as clashes resumed between government troops and the Islamic State-linked Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) at the Cotabato-Maguindanao border.
“We decided to suspend classes for the safety of pupils and teachers,” said Dimas Guiani, Pikit West district supervisor of the Department of Education in Cotabato.
According to Guiani, the pupils and teachers did not show up in some schools near Barangay Kabasalan, the focus of the ongoing military operation.
“Schoolchildren were terrified with the loud explosions and the sound of helicopter gunships,” he said.
Based on the narration of teachers and pupils, the ground shook when aerial bombs exploded in their community, he said.
Affected by the class suspension are the elementary schools in Binandal, Damalasak, Katilakan, Kolambog, Lamuak, Mapagkaya, Punol, Rajamuda and Barongis that serve 13 Pikit villages with a total school population of 6,000 pupils.
Army Brig. Gen. Alfredo del Rosario, 602nd Infantry Brigade commander, said the military operation pursued BIFF militants, who reportedly met with suspected foreign terrorists at Sitio Butelin, a small community along the Liguasan marsh in Barangay Kabasalan.
Del Rosario said Abu Toraife (Esmail Abdulmalik) was seen at the gathering in Sitio Butelin.
Bomb kills woman
Air and ground assaults were launched before dawn Thursday that left an elderly woman dead and her husband, a grandson and at least two soldiers wounded.
A soldier was also killed on Thursday in a two-hour clash between government troops and BIFF members who fled Barangay Kabasalan and met the military blocking forces at Barangay Dasawao in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town, Maguindanao province.
The wounded civilians, Alimudin Masla and his 10-year-old grandson, were taken to the Cruzado Medical Clinic where they were under tight watch by soldiers.
The military suspected Masla to be a BIFF member.
The clashes also sent scores of families fleeing their homes and streaming to the Pikit local government center.
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