Civilians flee as MILF, BIFF clash

PAGALUNGAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/16 February) – Hundreds of Moro civilians from outlying villages here and in nearby Pikit, North Cotabato fled following clashes since Saturday night between rivals Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

Children and work animals in tow, the villagers carrying valuables evacuated the interior villages of Kalbugan in Pagalungan and Buliok in Pikit Sunday night en route to the Pagalungan gymnasium in Barangay Poblacion and in Mahad School in Poblacion Pikit, respectively.

“Walang tigil ang putukan, pina-bakwit kami ng mga barangay kapitan,” (There was endless gunfire, the village chiefs told us to evacuate) one of the evacuees said.

Obviously tired of the long walk, the children fell asleep easily at 9 p.m. Sunday. Others entertained themselves by viewing movies on portable DVD player.

In the gymnasium the children slept close to each other on the concrete floor covered with tarpaulins, malong (shawls) and cartons.

Carabaos, cows, goats and chickens litter around the Pagalungan town hall compound.

More civilians arrived early Monday morning in Pagalungan Poblacion, fearing an escalation of hostilities following the death of one MILF commander.

Villagers said the MILF and the BIFF have been fighting since Saturday night. The fighting intensified following the reported death of Commander Falcon of the MILF in a clash with the group of BIFF commander Kagui Karialan.

BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama said four other MILF rebels were killed when they attacked the group of Karialan.

Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said both armed groups have been “staring at each other since last week.”

On Saturday night they clashed, leaving one MILF commander dead,” she said, adding the encounter site was deep inside the Maguindanao marshland.

She said they the BIFF who figured in a clash with PNP Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25 wanted to cross North Cotabato from Maguindanao but the MILF prevented them from coming in.

She said the Army is on stand by and did not interfere in the fighting but ensured the safety of civilians.

Meanwhile, some of the equipment of the 44 SAF members who died in the Mamasapano clash had been turned over to police authorities in Maguindanao, a police official said.

Senior Supt. Rodelio Jocson, Maguindanao police provincial director, said an unidentified civilian volunteered Saturday to turn over a Kevlar helmet, one two-way radio set and a ballistic plate for a bulletproof vest.

Jocson said the civilian requested anonymity for his security.

He said the Maguindanao PNP with the help of the local government of Mamasapano has sent feelers to civilians and armed men who may have the equipment of fallen policemen to turn them over to them.

“The civilian said he recovered the items in Barangay Tukanalipao after the encounter on January 25. I am hoping that the firearms of fallen 44 will be turned over to us soon,” he said.

Aside from the 44 police commandos, 18 Moro rebels and at least four civilians were also killed in the Jan. 25 operation to get terror suspects Zulkifli bin Hir alias Marwan and Abdul Basit Usman. Marwan was reportedly killed but Usman managed to escape.

Earlier, PNP acting chief Deputy Director Leonardo Espina appealed on national TV for Moro rebels and civilians to turn over the firearms, mobile phones and other equipment of the slain policemen. (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera/MindaNews)

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