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Military launches offensive vs BIFF

/ 05:45 AM February 22, 2015
Bangsamoro

Members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

COTABATO CITY, PHilippines—Soldiers, backed by artillery fire, on Saturday launched an offensive against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) gunmen, who had occupied nearly a dozen villages in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, and Pikit, North Cotabato.

Sources from the military, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and civilians said the operation started late Friday with the military pounding the BIFF positions with artillery from Pikit town.

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Capt. Joan Petinglay, 6th Division spokesperson, told the Inquirer that sporadic firefights between troops of the 7th Infantry Battalion and BIFF guerillas erupted in Barangay Bulol around 6:30 a.m. yesterday.

A military intelligence report furnished the Inquirer said that earlier, at around 6 a.m., a firefight occurred between the MILF, led by Commander Jack Abas, and the BIFF under Kagui Karialan at the Buliok complex, which is shared by Pikit and Pagalungan.

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The two groups had been involved in clashes in the interiors of Pikit and Pagalungan since Feb. 13.

During Saturday’s MILF-BIFF clash, four MILF members and five BIFF gunmen were killed, according to the military report.

Von Al Haq, MILF vice chair for military affairs, said his group had received no word pertaining to the reported clash between its forces and the BIFF yesterday.

“There might have been an exchange of fire but their distance was significant. There is no direct encounter between the MILF and BIFF now, just sporadic firing,” he said.

No MILF member had been wounded in the exchange of fire, he said.

Al Haq also said the MILF was not a party to the operation the military launched yesterday against the BIFF in North Cotabato and Maguindanao.

“Let me just clarify that as of now there are no AFP-MILF joint operations against the BIFF. It just so happened that we have a common enemy now,” Al Haq said by phone.

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He said the MILF was not worried about the shelling and the ground operation because the area targeted was under BIFF control and it had no members there.

“These are areas controlled by the BIFF and so far there are no reports of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces being hit or involved in the incident,” Al Haq said.

Military arrangements

He said the MILF was hoping that no civilian would get affected by the artillery mission.

“The decision and judgment will be on the military. They know what they are doing,” Al Haq said.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief negotiator, said that before the military operation was conducted, the government had already made arrangements with them.

“The military coordinated with us their operation against the BIFF. Our forces are far from the site of fighting,” Iqbal said.

Also reached by phone, Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson for the BIFF, said the group did not suffer any casualties from the shelling because their fighters were positioned quite far from where the shells were landing.

“Why are they doing this? If they want war they should be brave enough to enter our area and fight us, guns against guns,” Mama said.

He said the BIFF was moving its forces but for defense purposes only.

“Sporadic firefight is still on-going. There were no reported casualties from both sides,”Petinglay said.

The shelling continued as of early yesterday, sources from the MILF said.

The artillery rounds sent residents of Gli-gli village in Pikit to join those from nearby villages, who had earlier evacuated.

Petinglay said the artillery rounds served as indirect support to the ground troops.

BIFF gunmen under Kagi Karialan’s main group, the same band involved in the Mamasapano clash, had descended on at least seven Pikit villages and more in the adjacent town of Pagalungan on Feb. 13 and mounted attacks against MILF members there. Datukong Ampuan, known as Commander Falcon of the MILF, and five of his followers, were reportedly killed during the initial clashes.

The BIFF gunmen also torched civilian houses.

20,000 evacuees

North Cotabato Gov. Emmylou Mendoza-Taliño said social workers from the province were assisting at least 20,000 evacuees from the interior Pikit villages, including Bulol, Buliok Kabasalan and Barongis.

She said the provincial government was “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 (of the firefight) or worse, become spoils or collateral.”

She said the evacuees were being assisted by the local government of Pikit, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Anak Mindanao and social and health workers.

Capt. Danilo Nieves, spokesperson of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit, told the Inquirer that they started the ground assault early yesterday in the village of Kabasalan.

He said the MILF, which has a large number of members in the area, was not part of the target.

Rosemarie Alcebar, a social worker, said some of the displaced families coming from the village of Rajamudah were planning to return home before the incident.

Mama also questioned the military’s use of artillery against their men.

“Why are they doing this? If they want war they should be brave enough to enter our area and fight us, guns against guns,” Mama said.–Reports from Jeoffrey Maitem, Karlos Manlupig, Allan Nawal and Nash Maulana

Originally posted: 10:01 AM | Saturday, February 21st, 2015

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TAGS: Abu Misri Mama, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), assault, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, BIFF, clash, Danilo Nieves, Emmylou Mendoza-Taliño, Fight, Joan Petinglay, Maguindanao, Mamasapano, MILF, Military, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, North Cotabato, War
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