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BIFF occupies North Cotabato villages—military

/ 02:10 PM February 17, 2015

PIKIT, North Cotabato—Hundreds of breakaway rebels occupied at least two barangays (villages) in this town, forcing thousands of civilians to evacuate, officials said Monday.

Lt. Col. Orlando Edralin, commander of 7th Infantry Battalion, told the Inquirer that the remote villages of Kabasalan and Barongis became no man’s land after more than 250 armed members of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) took full control of the areas.

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Rosemarie Alcebar, a social worker, said a total of 868 families fled their homes and were staying in seven evacuation centers.

“The incident started from a long-standing land dispute but it now appears that it is more of an organizational fighting,” Edralin said.

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Alcebar said the BIFF rebels were advancing and could also occupy the village of Bulol.

“I talked to a village official from Bulol and they told us the rebels were moving forward,” Alcebar said.

Skirmishes between BIFF and MILF started February 13.

On Saturday, a fierce firefight broke out in the remote village of Kalbugan in Pagalungan town in Maguindanao between the group of Commander Gani Saligan of the BIFF and Jack Abas of the MILF.

Datukon Ampuan, known as Commander Falcon of the MILF, was killed.

The head of the government’s coordinating committee on the cessation of hostilities (CCCH) said the fighting broke out when MILF forces began running after BIFF rebels who took part in the January 25 incident in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, where 44 police commandos were killed.

Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. said the operation was part of the MILF’s efforts to show its sincerity in the peace talks.

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On January 25, members of police Special Action Force went to Tukanalipao village in Mamasapano to arrest Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Bin Hir, alias Marwan, and Filipino bomber Basit Usman.

Marwan, who was behind the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia that left more than 200 people dead, was killed in the operation. Usman, however, escaped.

While the commandos were pulling out from the site, they encountered a group of MILF rebels under the 105th Base Command, resulting in fierce fighting. A total of 44 policemen, 18 rebels and four civilians died in the fighting.

The MILF claimed that members of the BIFF took part in the firefight.

“They were pressured by the incident in Mamasapano. They are working out to regain public trust,” Galvez said.

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TAGS: AFP, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, biff, Evacuation, North Cotabato, Pikit
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