Intl. NGOs urged to avoid BIFF areas due to kidnap threats

KUALA LUMPUR (MindaNews/05 October) –  International non-governmental organizations (INGOs)  and embassies with employees operating in conflict-affected areas in Cotabato and Maguindanao have been asked to avoid these areas in the meantime following “persistent reports” that members of the  Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) plan to “abduct foreign nationals including workers of various INGOs.”
In a letter dated October 3 and addressed to “colleagues in the peace process,” Brig. Gen. Gilberto Jose Roa, chair of the government’s Coordinating  Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH),  cited “persistent reports” from the 6thInfantry Division that the BIFF is “planning to sabotage the ongoing peace negotiations” between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation (MILF).The two panels have been meeting  here since Tuesday, October 2 and have agreed to extend the talks by one more day, or until Saturday, October 6.Part of the BIFF’s plan, the 6th ID report said, is “to abduct foreign nationals including workers of various INGOs undertaking field visits and other humanitarian activities in some areas of Maguindanao and Cotabato provinces affected by the presence of the BIFF.”

“In this regard, we enjoin everyone to avoid said areas in the meantime until said threat from the BIFF/BIFM (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement) has been removed,” Roa said.

Maj. Carlos Sol, head of the GPH CCCH secretariat, said the letter was sent to INGOs that have been coordinating with the Joint GPH-MILF CCCH on security matters in the conflict-affected areas.

Roa sent the letter to 40 organizations, five of them embassies, 27 INGOs, seven Mindanao-based peace groups and the International Monitoring Team. ‘’

This is the first time the government’s ceasefire committee sent out letters to caution these groups.

Late Tuesday afternoon,  70-year old Annie Datuwata, owner of a gasoline station in Libungan, North Cotabato , was abducted in Libungan, North Cotabato  by suspected BIFF members. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)