Army troops seize 2 BIFF strongholds
COTABATO CITY—Government forces have fought and driven away Moro armed men who had used at least two villages as camps in Shariff Aguak and Datu Unsay towns in Maguindanao province.
At least 33 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed and 10 others were wounded in skirmishes in Barangay Kuloy in Shariff Aguak and Barangay Meta in Datu Unsay from Wednesday to Saturday, according to Col. Lito Sobejana, commander of the Army’s 601st Infantry Brigade.
“The figure was verified with various sources and confirmed by village officials and residents,” he said.
The BIFF, which split from the mainstream Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) over political differences in pursuing peace negotiations with the government, laughed off the military claim.
“The Army was imagining casualty figures,” Abu Misri Mama, spokesperson of the BIFF, said in the vernacular. He also denied the communities were BIFF strongholds.
Mama admitted that only three rebels were killed and four were injured.
Asked how many soldiers were killed, Mama said, “Ah marami (plenty).”
Air and ground assaults
On Wednesday, the Army launched air and ground assaults against some 60 BIFF rebels who harassed Army recruits undergoing immersion activities in conflict-affected communities in Meta. Sporadic fighting ensued until Saturday.
Two homemade bombs left by the fleeing rebels exploded while soldiers were clearing the area. Seven soldiers were wounded.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, and Maj. Gen. Demosthenes Santillan, Army deputy commander, also visited the recaptured communities while bomb experts checked on several houses from where the BIFF men launched their attacks.
With the two high-ranking officials were members of the government and MILF ceasefire monitoring committees and the international monitoring team.
Sobejana said the Army was putting a ceasefire mechanism in place to avoid clashes between military and the MILF.
About 700 families have been displaced by the fighting, according to the humanitarian unit of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
After clearing operations were completed on Sunday, the Army announced that local residents could return to their villages. But the displaced families refused to do so, fearing the return of the BIFF and the resumption of armed hostilities.
“We might be caught in the cross fire, we will not risk our lives,” one of the residents, Kamid Sandig, said. He recounted previous experiences in areas where soldiers were stationed near BIFF camps and skirmishes flared up repeatedly.
Sandig said the Army should leave before they could return home. He cited the case of a 15-year-old girl who was wounded by stray bullets on Wednesday morning when Army soldiers and BIFF rebels started shooting at each other.
Sobejana said the soldiers would stay in an area far from the communities under the ceasefire setup with the MILF.
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