107 families displaced in recent BIFF-AFP clashes; 7 bakwits wounded

DAVAO CITY  (MindaNews/07 July) – Seven persons displaced by armed clashes between the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), two of them children, were wounded in a mortar shelling in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona town in Maguindanao at 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, the Mindanao Tulong Bakwet (MTB) reported.

The MTB Documentation team on Sunday reported 107 families were displaced by the recent armed skirmishes between BIFF and AFP.

The BIFF broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2010, three months after its founder, Ustadz Amiril Kato tendered his resignation as commander of the 105th Base Command of the MILF’s Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces.

Kato suffered a stroke in November 2011. The MILF has been negotiating peace with the Philippine government (GPH) since 1997 and will meet again in Kuala Lumpur on July 8 to 11 to continue negotiations on the annexes to the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro.

In a press statement, the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the recent “atrocities and threats” perpetrated by the BIFF forced the military and police, together with the Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the GPH and MILF peace panels, to launch operations against the group that it described to be “hell-bent to derail the peace process” between the government and the MILF.

The MTB report said the recent clashes between the BIFF and AFP began on Saturday, July 6, when the BIFF forces “preempted the entry of troops coming from 45th IB to Barangay Ganta.”

MTB said another encounter happened at 8 a.m.. Sunday morning, “resulting to re- displacement of IDPs (internally displaced persons or ‘bakwits’) sheltered in Damabalas Elementary School.”

The school and some houses suffered minor damages, the MTB report said.

Most of  the bakwits sought refuge in relatives’ houses in the poblacion of Datu Piang town, the MTB report said.

Nine families with 33 dependents are presently staying in temporary evacuation center in Pendalilang St.

The seven wounded bakwits were rushed to Cotabato Regional Medical Center for treatment.

Of the seven, three suffered severe injuries, the MTB report said.

It also interviewed survivors of the mortar shelling and learned that it happened near Ganta Elementary School, their supposed evacuation center.

Major General Romeo L Gapuz, 6th ID chief said that since last month, the BIFF has conducted sporadic attacks on civilian communities and military detachments.

On June 19, the BIFF reportedly attacked civilians in Barangay Bagumbayan in President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat province killing a farmer and a CAFGU member.

On that same day, the BIFF also attacked a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion located in the same community. As a result, the 6th ID filed cases against identified BIFF leaders led by Ustadz Zukarno Sapal.

Gapuz said forces of the military and police, in coordination with the GPH-MILF, launched the law enforcement operations to interdict and isolate the BIFF.

The press release said a composite team arrested eight members of the BIFF, three of them minors,  and recovered a corpse of an alleged BIFF member in Barangay Kulasi, also in Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat province.

Five of the arrested were turned-over to the President Quirino municipal police station and charged with illegal possession of explosives while the three minors were turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development  (DSWD).

Gapuz urged groups advocating children’s rights to look into the reported use of child soldiers by the BIFF.

He noted that in August last year, when the BIFF also attacked several communities and military detachments, “our field commanders also reported of minors allegedly used as child warriors by the BIFF.”

“As of this report, armed clashes are still ongoing between pursuing government forces against the unruly BIFF elements in different communities in the provinces of Maguindanao and North Cotabato,” the press statement said. But it quoted Gapuz as saying “we are on top of the situation.”

“We are ready and committed along with our counterparts from the MILF to defend our communities from BIFF abuses and the massive displacements and lost livelihoods they cause which are clear violations of the International Humanitarian Law and to preserve and guard the primacy of the peace process in Mindanao.”

“We are doing our best to secure our communities and prevent more displacements especially so that our brothers and sisters in Islam are going to start the observance of the Holy month of Ramadan this coming week,” he said. (MindaNews)