Gov’t peace negotiator warns of more BIFF attacks
GOVERNMENT chief negotiator Miriam Coronel-Ferrer on Saturday warned of increased attempts by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) to “destabilize” security in Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato following a series of attacks that led to the deaths of nine civilians.
“The BIFF’s sporadic attacks across the three provinces of Maguindanao, Sultan Kudarat and North Cotabato—including the firing of grenades at a local chapel and an army detachment, hostage-taking and the planting of improvised explosives—indicate an attempt to gain momentum for their bid to destabilize the situation in these areas and garner attention for themselves and their flagging cause,” Ferrer said in a statement.
Christmas Eve attacks
Ferrer said the BIFF, a Moro rebel group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), launched a series of attacks in the three provinces on Christmas Eve.
She said seven farmers were shot at close range while working their rice paddies in Sultan Kudarat and two other civilians were killed in a grenade attack on a chapel in nearby North Cotabato.
Ferrer said the rebels, who oppose peace talks between the government and the MILF, had also taken civilian hostages in the Sultan Kudarat attack and used them as human shields when soldiers pursued them, but the hostages were later freed.
Army troops killed four rebels in the Sultan Kudarat attack.
Ferrer extended sympathy to the families of the nine farmers killed by the BIFF and offered prayers for noncombatants caught in the conflict.
Prayers for soldiers
Still in the spirit of Christmas, Ferrer offered prayers for the safety of the soldiers pursuing the BIFF, “who, instead of humbly celebrating the holiday season in their remote posts, have been mobilized to prevent the hostile group from wreaking more harm on the populace.”
“We ask the leaders of the BIFF to reconsider their violent ways and take heed of the people’s desire for peace and normalcy in their lives,” she said.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama confirmed the attacks, but claimed his group was only after paramilitary forces and soldiers.
Mama vowed the BIFF would step up attacks in the coming days because it wanted to set up an Islamic state in Mindanao.
More attacks expected
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the military was expecting the BIFF to launch more attacks.
He quoted Armed Forces spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla as saying that the military was expecting more lightning raids and harassment by the BIFF in retaliation for the losses it had suffered in a series of military operations.
“They intend to show that they are not yet a spent force following recent debacles. The [military], however, has kept these activities localized with its ongoing operations to hunt down BIFF elements who have perpetrated recent criminal acts,” Padilla said.
Police officials said the group behind the Christmas Eve attacks in Mindanao had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East in videos posted on YouTube, but they had no evidence linking the attackers directly to the jihadists who had seized swaths of Iraq and Syria.
They said they also had no evidence that any Filipino had traveled to the Middle East to fight with IS. With a report from the wires
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