CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 Feb) – Gunmen ambushed a military convoy in Balindong town, Lanao del Sur shortly before noon Tuesday, killing one soldier and stopping vehicular traffic for an hour along the provincial highway that links Marawi and Cotabato cities.
Balindong town Mayor Raysalam Mangondato said soldiers fired back and a fierce gun battle ensued forcing residents from barangays Abaga and Barit to flee to the town center for safety.
“Weeping children and nervous parents were running because of the loud explosions,” he said.
Lanao del Sur police director Senior Superintendent Rustom Duran said the gunmen ambushed a military convoy consisting of two Simba armored personnel carriers (APC); a truck trailer carrying an M113 APC; and two Humvees from the Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade headquarters in Marawi City.
Duran said the convoy was bound for the Army’s firebase in Lumbatan town in Lanao del Sur when the attack took place in Barangay Bubong Cadapaan at around 11 a.m. Tuesday.
He identified the casualty as Private First Class Emmanuel Buhilag, a member of the 51st Cadre Battalion.
Mangondato said vehicular traffic was suspended for an hour when the fighting intensified.
Fr. Chito Soganub of the Prelature of Marawi told MindaNews they passed by Wato-Balindong at around 3 p.m. on their way back to Marawi City from a priests’ meeting in Malabang town, Lanao del Sur, and found no checkpoints along the way. He described the highway as “normal” and said they felt no tension as they passed.
The attack came three days after a band of armed men described in military reports as “foreign and local terrorist organization” attacked an army detachment in Butig town, Lanao del Sur on Feb. 20.
Two soldiers died in the attack, prompting Army officials to launch a full-scale military operation to catch the suspects. Police said at least 1,500 residents from Butig town fled their homes to escape the fighting.
Mohagher Iqbal, chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panel, told MindaNews Tuesday that when the military launched operations against the perpetrators of the February 20 attack, the MILF ordered members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF) in Lanao del Sur, including Abdurahman Macapaar alias Commander Bravo, to move back from the area where the military was operating. This is intended to ensure there is no misencounter between the peace partners.
The government and the MILF signed the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB) on March 27, 2014.
The repositioning was coordinated through their joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group.
The repositioning was similar to what happened in Maguindanao around this time last year, when government troops launched operations against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
In three weeks, the operations displaced 123,537 persons from 15 towns in Maguindanao.
The MILF last year repositioned “more than 4,000 MILF fighters” from the areas where the military was operating, as coordinated by their respective CCCH.
Brig. Gen. Carlito Galvez, then chair of the government peace panel’s CCCH, told participants of the Mindanao Media Forum in Cotabato City last July that “more than 4,000 MILF fighters were repositioned in Camp Afghan and other cantonment areas for more than 70 days – from February 27 to May 3 – until the death of Basit Usman” on May 3. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews with a report from Carolyn O. Arguillas)