15,000 flee from MILF, BIFF fighting in North Cotabato, Maguindanao | Inquirer News
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15,000 flee from MILF, BIFF fighting in North Cotabato, Maguindanao

/ 05:45 PM February 17, 2015

COTABATO CITY, Philippines—Close to 15,000 individuals have been displaced by sporadic skirmishes involving rival Moro armed groups in the boundary of Maguindanao and North Cotabato, officials said on Tuesday.

The barangays (villages) of Kabasalan, Barongis, Buliok, Bago Inged, Bulol and Rajamuda, all of Pikit, North Cotabato, and Kalbugan and Buliok in Pagalungan, Maguindanao have become virtual ghost communities after villagers fled when armed men started trading shots on Saturday.

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About 1,200 families were displaced in Pagalungan while 1,800 families from Pikit had to flee to safer ground, disaster officials said.

Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit municipal disaster chief, said about 15,000 individuals have been staying in various evacuation sites in Pikit and Pagalungan. The number of displaced families could even go higher as more people left their homes Tuesday.

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“We have not received information about civilian casualties; they left their homes early so they were spared from getting caught in the cross fire,” Kalantongan told reporters.

“As of now, no one from among the displaced families have any plan to return home,” she added.

In Barangay Kalbugan, Pagalungan, the site of bloody clash between elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) led by Commander Jack Abbas and Bangamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), led by Commander Kagi Karialan, no one was around when disaster officials visited the place on Tuesday morning.

Except for several heavily armed MILF members resting under coconut trees, the village was fully deserted.

“There appears to be a deafening silence; no civilians except wandering chicken and birds,” Kalantongan described the villages of Kabalan and Bulol in Pikit.

Kalantongan said some houses were torched by armed men in Sitio Balibet, Barangay Bulol, Pikit.

“We have no idea who did it,” she said.

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“We are still validating the total number of displaced families, along with village officials we are still assessing the situation,” Kalantongan said, adding that village and town officials are to give the green light when the IDPs can return home.

“We are fighting not the whole MILF organization but only the group of Kagi Jack Abbas, we are at odds with him but not the whole of MILF,” Abu Misri Mama, speaking for the BIFF, said.

According to Mama, BIFF founding chair Ustadz Ameril Umra Kato has written the MILF central committee, saying the BIFF is not at war with the whole MILF organization.

Mama accused Abbas of receiving money from North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza to prevent the entry of BIFF in North Cotabato. “That is not possible because we have BIFF natives in North Cotabato,” Mama said.

Governor Mendoza denied Mama’s claim.

“I can’t help but wonder that people put malice in what I do and accuse me of something else. The truth will always come out. And part of it is that the MILF and BIFF quarrel in Pikit is a personal matter between them. My administration is simply committed to ensure that the hapless civilians and the rest of the peace-loving people of Pikit are secured and not caught in the middle or worse, become spoils or collateral damage,” Mendoza said in a statement.

MILF Commander Datukong Ampuan alias Commander Falcon was killed in the first clash with the BIFF on Saturday evening. Four other MILF fighters were also killed, according to Mama with his group suffering two fatalities.

Von Al Haq, MILF chief of Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, said efforts have started to disengage the warring group and allow civilians to return home.

“We are settling it through diplomatic means,” he said.

The Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (HEART), the relief agency of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), has distributed relief goods to evacuees housed at the Pagalungan covered court and in the local government compound.

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TAGS: Abu Misri Mama, Armed conflict, ARMM, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, battle casualties, civilians caught in crossfire, clash, Datukon Ampuan, Encounter, Evacuation, gun battle, Heart, Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team, Insurgency, Kagi Karialan Jack Abbas, Maguindanao, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Moro rebellion, Muhaidin Animbang, News, North Cotabato, Pagalungan, Pikit, rebellion, Regions, Von Al Haq
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