PIKIT, Cotabato (MindaNews/11 August)—Some 200 families have fled two barangays in Datu Piang, Maguindanao in the wake of clashes between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and members of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters of Ameril Umbra Kato.
This has brought to 550 the number of families that have been displaced since fighting between the two groups started 4:30 dawn of August 9 in barangays Balanaken, Liong and Alonganen.
The new evacuees came from barangays Alonganen and Masigay.
The Bantay Ceasefire, an independent ceasefire monitor, said that the 200 families sought refuge at the Dado Elementary School following an encounter around 6:30am Thursday.
Reports reaching the group said that today’s firefight was a continuation of the August 9 clashes between the BIFF and the 106th Base Command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces under Commander Adzmie Kasim.
Kato, who formed the BIFF over his disillusionment with the peace process after the Supreme Court struck down the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain as unconstitutional, maintained he had not left the MILF and was still supporting the peace negotiation.
MILF spokesperson Von Al Haq downplayed the reported armed encounter, saying they have eased the tension.
“There is no truth to that (armed encounter),” he said, adding the BIFF had already withdrawn from Datu Piang and heeded back to the mountains of Camp Omar along the boundary between Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat province.
He said the gunshots heard in some communities of Datu Piang this morning were “sporadic sniping fires” by a few elements from both sides that had remained in the area.
Al Haq, however, said the MILF was investigating reports that mortars were being fired during the clashes, as it could mean that a third party could be behind the hostility.
Unconfirmed reports said that followers of detained former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr., who is now detained for the November 23, 2009 Ampatuan massacre that killed 58 persons, have joined the fighting.
But the military denied the alleged involvement of Ampatuan’s men in the clashes, saying the BIFF “wanted the military to be dragged into the encounter to ease the pressure” put on them by BIAF guerrillas.
“Bubuwagin na daw nila ang BIFF. Hahabulin nila yan hanggang sa taas (Camp Omar),” a military intelligence officer who asked not to be named said.
Peace groups, meanwhile, cautioned the Army and the MILF against so-called peace saboteurs “who are usually active every time some positive developments happen in the negotiation,” referring to the meeting in Japan last week between President Aquino and MILF chair Al Haj Murad Ebrahim. (Romy Elusfa/MindaNews contributor)