Over 20 houses burned as Army, MILF continue operations vs BIFF in North Cotabato

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/22 Feb) – Over 20 houses were reportedly burned in the outskirts of this town as government forces and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) continued separate offensive operations against the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) Sunday.

The Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said at least 17 homes of civilians who fled Barangay Kabasalan burned to the ground.

“We cannot say who burned the houses. We counted 17 in Barangay Kabasalan alone,” Tahira Kalantongan, Pikit MDRRMC said.

Five other houses in nearby Barangay Barongis, a stronghold of the MILF in Pikit, also burned down.

The 7th Infantry Battalion launched offensives Saturday and Sunday against the BIFF after the rebels occupied eight villages in Pikit and two barangays in nearby Pagalungan, Maguindanao.

Commander Jack Abas of the MILF said the BIFF moved out of Kabasalan after the Army fired mortars and howitzers and continued ground operations.

“Our troops are now in Kabasalan conducting clearing operations,” he said in a phone interview.

The BIFF, led by Kagi Karialan, occupied Kabasalan for about a week after they fled Mamasapano, Maguindanao following a clash with police commandos on January 25.

Reports said a feud between Karialan’s and Abas’ families triggered the armed hostilities in interior villages of Pagalungan and Pikit.

Abas denied he has a feud with Karialan but said the MILF leadership could not tolerate the atrocities allegedly being committed by the BIFF such as bombing and extortion.

Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, admitted his men abandoned Kabasalan Sunday “because the Army used mortars and howitzers.”

“The Army and the MILF have joined forces against us. We will not back off, we will continue our guerrilla fight against them to the last drop of our blood,” Mama said in Filipino.

Kalantongan meanwhile said she could not say when the evacuees from Kabasalan could return to their homes since many were afraid that the fighting might have left unexploded ordnance in their villages. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)

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