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More troops sent to keep BIFF away

Another battalion to establish gov’t presence in areas cleared of rebs
/ 12:30 AM April 09, 2015

DATU ODIN SINSUAT, Maguindanao—Apparently learning its lesson, the military is sending more soldiers to villages in Maguindanao that had been cleared of renegade Moro rebels to establish government presence in these areas, according to military officials Wednesday.

In the past, while government forces succeeded in overrunning villages converted into camps by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), soldiers had not been deployed to stay in the areas and keep these free of renegade rebel presence.

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BIFF is a group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) after MILF agreed to enter into a peace agreement with the government that was made possible partly by MILF’s decision to drop its demand for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao and accept a proposal to expand Moro autonomous rule.

Next week, an additional battalion of soldiers would be sent to Maguindanao not only to reinforce soldiers running after remnants of BIFF, but also to establish government presence in areas already cleared of renegade rebels, according to Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson.

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The soldiers’ mission would include running after other lawless elements in Mindanao, said Petinglay.

The armed forces launched an all-out offensive against BIFF in February, about a month after 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF), 17 Moro guerrillas and three civilians were killed in a SAF operation to capture or kill international terrorist Zulkifli bin Hir, alias “Marwan” on Jan. 25 in the town of Mamasapano, Maguindanao province.

As a security policy, the military won’t disclose the number of soldiers deployed in the operation to neutralize BIFF but a battalion consists of at least 800 men.

Petinglay said aside from helping secure BIFF camps overran by government forces in recent days, the additional soldiers would help in other tasks.

The additional soldiers, Petinglay said, would not only help “eliminate the BIFF but also help local government officials in bringing development to conflict affected areas.”

Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th ID chief, earlier said former strongholds of BIFF would be transformed into developed communities with government forces providing

security to the people.

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“These troops will eventually help in the construction of the different peace and development projects that will be implemented for the people in the affected areas.” he added.

The military scaled down the war on BIFF on March 30, telling hundreds of thousands of villages who fled their homes that it is now safe for them to return.

At the end of the full-scale offensive, Petinglay said at least 141 BIFF members were killed, 57 were wounded and 12 were either captured or surrendered.

“So, based on this record of casualties, what is left of the group could be less than a hundred,” she said.

Petinglay, however, said the military figures were just estimates.

Armed Forces Chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. said at a recent visit here that the operation against BIFF had not been terminated despite the apparent defeat of the renegade rebels.

Catapang said there would be a continuing and focused operation against lawlessness in Maguindanao. Jeoffrey Maitem, Inquirer Mindanao

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