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Thousands flee MILF-BIFF battle fearing its spread

MANILA, Philippines–The gun battle between two rival Muslim rebel groups in the boundary of Maguindanao and North Cotabato has displaced more than 1,000 families or 8,000 individuals, reports reaching the Department of National Defense said on Monday.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines said the families were evacuated from the areas of the fighting, mostly concentrated in Barangay (village) Kabasalan, Pikit, North Cotabato; and Pagalungan, Maguindanao.

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Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the civilians voluntarily left their homes for fear the gun battle that began last week would spread.

Cabunoc said the fight was triggered by a “rido,” or clan feud, between Commander Kagi Karialan of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Commander Jack Abbas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

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He said the displaced families were in two evacuation centers in Pagalungan and Pikit where the local governments gave them relief items and the Philippine Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion was providing security.

“Gunshots continued since Saturday. Our barangay chief told us to evacuate,” Alyssa Pagalan, a 30-year-old mother of two, said as she and about 50 families arrived at the Pagalungan covered court.

Early Monday morning, more civilians were still streaming into Pagalungan as social workers and police tended to their needs. Some stayed by the side of the Cotabato-Davao highway as the covered court had become crowded.

“We foresee a bigger war because a commander was killed,” said Kagi Sumail, 55.

Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said Commander Falcon of the MILF’s 105th base command was reported killed in the clash with the group of Karialan.

Speaking via mobile phone, BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama said four MILF and two BIFF guerrillas were killed during the encounter on Saturday night.

“We have two martyrs, the MILF has four killed in action,” he said.

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Fighting was still going on Monday with both sides using mortar and high-powered firearms.

Cynthia Ortega, head of the Provincial Disaster Risk and Reduction Management Council in North Cotabato, said that as of 2 p.m. on Monday, they had recorded 1,702 families displaced.

“We can say that the situation has escalated as many villages have already been affected, including Barungis, Bagoinged, Buliok, Rajah Muda, Bulol and Kabasalan,” she said.With a report from Frances Mangosing, INQUIRER.net

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TAGS: biff, Maguindanao, MILF, Muslim rebels, North Cotabato, Rido
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