Artillery strikes killed 20 BIFF members, says Army
MANILA, Philippines–At least 20 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been killed by Army artillery fire and coordinated air strikes in Pikit, North Cotabato, effectively stopping the militant organization’s two-day turf war with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Col. Noel Clement, commander of the Philippine Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, yesterday said the fatality report based on actual body count culled from intelligence reports as well as on reports from residents and the MILF.
Clement said his men were on their way to clear Barangay Kabasalan of BIFF remnants.
He said no more fighting was reported between the BIFF and the MILF since the Army decided to step in to rescue the increasing number of civilians being affected.
Clan war referee
He said the figures could be higher as more casualties on the rebels’ side were reported while the BIFF were withdrawing from the Buliok complex. There were reports that the BIFF were burying their dead before leaving the area, he said.
Clement said there were 150 to 200 BIFF rebels in the area when the Army conducted the clearing operation on Saturday.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said he ordered his men to act as referees in the fight, believed to have been triggered by a clan war between BIFF commander Kagi Karialan and MILF commander Jack Abbas.
“We are coming in, finding out how to de-escalate [the tension]. We just want to show to them that ‘here comes the referee maybe it’s time that you separate first and stop,” Catapang said.
The sporadic fighting between commanders of the two Muslim rebel groups in Mindanao has spread to nearby towns, displacing more than 20,000 individuals in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
On Sunday, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the AFP public affairs office, said about 50 rebels were killed during the bombardment operation by the Army. His reports were still unconfirmed.
“We believe the BIFF indeed sustained many casualties due to heavy traces of blood in the area,” Cabunoc said.
The Army decided to step in after the MILF, which was talking peace with the government, asked for its intervention.
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