Army artillery forces BIFF retreat from Cotabato villages; evacuees allowed to return
COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Civilians displaced by the conflict between two rival rebel groups in North Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces could return to their villages now, the military official said Monday.
Captain Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone that residents affected by the hostilities between Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Pikit, North Cotabato and Pagalungan, Maguindanao could safely go back to their respective villages.
“Our soldiers from the 7th Infantry Battalion will coordinate with local officials so residents can return home and go back to their normal lives,” Petinglay said.
“They have nothing to worry about because we have deployed soldiers in their villages to ensure their protection,” she added.
On Feb. 21, government security forces launched ground and artillery offensives, driving away the BIFF rebels in Barangays (villages) Kabasalan, Buliok and Barongis in Pikit town.
The rebels withdrew towards the marshy areas of Sultan sa Barongis Maguindanao.
The conflict involving Commander Gani Saligan of the BIFF and Jack Abbas of the MILF has something to do with long standing land dispute.
Around 20,000 evacuees affected by the conflict have been staying in evacuation centers due to the conflict.
But the Pikit Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (MDRRMC) reported that 17 homes of civilians who fled Barangay Kabasalan were razed.
“We are not in a position to say who burned the houses. We counted 17 houses burned in Barangay Kabasalan alone,” Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit MDRRMO, said.
Five houses in nearby Barangay Barongis, also in Pikit, were also burned.
Rosemarie Alcebar, a social worker in Pikit, said the government would help those families whose houses were torched.
Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, admitted his men abandoned Barangay Kabasalan Sunday “because the Army used mortars and howitzers.”
“It’s us versus Army-MILF joint forces. We will not back off, our guerrilla offensive against the Army and group of Commander Jack Abbas will continue up to the last drop of our blood,” Mama said in Filipino.
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