War-displaced civilians can now return home
COTABATO CITY – The military has urged civilians displaced by its all-out offensive – which started February 25—to return home as it was now safe for them to do so.
During his visit to Maguindanao on Monday last week, Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said to boost the confidence of displaced residents about returning home, soldiers will remain in villages “freed from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.”
At least 123,000 people fled their homes in 15 Maguindanao towns – including Mamasapano – when the military launched an all-out offensive against the BIFF.
READ: Gov’t to let displaced Maguindanao residents return after fighting eases | War-displaced kids want to go home
Catapang said after suffering heavy casualties and being pushed outside of their camps, the BIFF is now on the run.
Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said with the expected return of the displaced residents, the military will start the development phase of its operation in Maguindanao.
She said the second phase of the military operation also included the deployment of troops in formerly BIFF-controlled areas and camps.
READ: AFP ends all-out offensive vs BIFF
Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan said some 100 families have already reoccupied their villages and were being continuously assisted.
“We are still assessing the situation on the ground, about less than 100 families have returned home, others returned at day time but, to be safe, went back to evacuation sites at night,” Ampatuan told reporters.
Catapang said the downgrading of the BIFF’s capability by 50 percent meant that the military was now shifting its campaign to a “focused operation.”
“Focused military operation would mean when we spotted the enemy, we will operate. But it would not be like sending brigades to operate. The Rangers will operate. We will make sure that there is no collateral damage or human rights violation,” he said.
Catapang said the military will also work with local government units in convincing civilians to go home and “to put up their own village security.”
One way of securing their villages, Catapang said, is for residents to inform village authorities about BIFF movements.
READ: BIFF on AFP all-out war: We will die fighting
As to Basit Usman, he said the military was continuing the manhunt for the Filipino bomb expert, who was one of the targets of the botched Mamasapano operation which left 44 elite police commandos dead.
“Sometimes he is inside the box, outside the box and sometimes without the box,” he said.
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