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BIFF, MILF war: Army to protect civilians

/ 12:28 AM February 20, 2015
CIVILIANS caught in the fighting between Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters seek refuge in a gymnasium in Pagalungan town, Maguindanao province, on Feb. 17. Gun battles have displaced up to 20,000 residents of several villages in the town and in Pikit town in North Cotabato province. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

CIVILIANS caught in the fighting between Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters seek refuge in a gymnasium in Pagalungan town, Maguindanao province, on Feb. 17. Gun battles have displaced up to 20,000 residents of several villages in the town and in Pikit town in North Cotabato province. JEOFFREY MAITEM/INQUIRER MINDANAO

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—The military would serve as a buffer to prevent civilian casualties in the ongoing fighting between two rival Moro guerrilla groups that has spread to more villages in the provinces of North Cotabato and Maguindanao, the head of the Armed Forces of the Philippines said here.

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr., AFP chief, said the 6th Infantry Division of the Army would send soldiers to areas where a group of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters is battling a group from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

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Since last week, members of MILF and BIFF have been at war in remote areas of Pikit town in North Cotabato and Pagalungan in Maguindanao, sending hundreds of residents fleeing.

Common enemy

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“We have to look into this. While it could be only clan war, we have to step in to put a stop to the fighting,” said Catapang, interviewed after the turnover by MILF of 16 firearms belonging to Special Action Force commandos who were killed in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao during an operation to get international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan.”

At least seven Pikit villages had become ghost towns when BIFF gunmen came and torched houses. BIFF also occupied several villages in Pagalungan, which is adjacent to Pikit.

Catapang said the deployment of soldiers to the site of the fighting would have to be properly coordinated.

“We are also at war with the BIFF so we have to look into this so as not to complicate things,” he said.

20,000 flee

North Cotabato Gov. Lala Taliño-Mendoza said more than 20,000 people from Pikit town and Pagalungan had been displaced by the fighting between an MILF unit under Jack Abas and BIFF.

Six MILF men, so far, had been killed, including Datukong Ampuan, an MILF unit leader. There is no word on BIFF casualties.

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“Our enemy here is only Commander Jack Abas because he vowed to push us out of the area in exchange for money,” said BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama in a phone interview.

Mama said Abas launched attacks against BIFF after he was paid by Mendoza, which the governor denied.

“Abas is a very feudal man, like a datu. He does not want anyone to threaten his influence in the same territory, most especially if this person was his former subordinate,” Mama said.

Abas maintains that the operation against BIFF was one against criminality.

Clash spreading

Reports reaching the Armed Forces’ headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City said the fighting had spread to more areas.

Social workers in Pagalungan town reported more than 9,000 people in the town fleeing the clashes and taking shelter in three evacuation centers.

Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said it was a rido, or clan war between Abas of MILF and a BIFF group led by Commander Karialan.

Jo Henry, information officer of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action and Response Team, said the fighting had spread to Datu Montawal, another town in Maguindanao. Jeoffrey Maitem and Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao and Cynthia Balana in Manila

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, News, Regions
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