Army tells war evacuees BIFF gone, safe to go home
COTABATO CITY—The military has urged civilians displaced by its all-out offensive against renegade Moro rebels, which started Feb. 25, to return home as it is 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 (BIFF).
At least 123,000 people fled their homes in 15 Maguindanao towns, including Mamasapano, when the military launched an all-out offensive against BIFF.
Catapang said after suffering heavy casualties and being pushed outside of their camps, 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 includes the deployment of troops to areas once held by BIFF.
“We will start the development phase of our campaign,” Petinglay said.
Mamasapano Mayor Benzar Ampatuan said some 100 families have already returned to their homes.
Ampatuan said some families, however, are still afraid. “Others return at day time (to their homes), but to be safe go back to evacuation sites at night,” said the mayor.
Catapang said the military offensive has led to a “50-percent” decline in BIFF capacity to sow terror.
The military, he said, is now shifting to “focused operations.”
“Focused military operation would mean when we spot the enemy, we will operate,” said Catapang.
“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 “put up their own village security.”
The offensive, however, has not resulted in the capture or killing of Basit Usman, a Filipino terrorist who had taken shelter with Indonesian al-Qaida operative Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan,” in Mamasapano. Dennis Santos, Inquirer Mindanao
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