Clash triggers new evacuation in Maguindanao town

DATU SALIBO, Maguindanao (MindaNews/08 March) —Army soldiers clashed with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters who launched a retaliatory attack on a military tactical headquarters in this town Friday night, officials said.

The gunfight, which led to shelling from nearby artillery positions, triggered new evacuations in three villages, Datu Salibo town Mayor Al Haj Samsudin Dimaukom said.
603rd Infantry Brigade chief Col. Arnel de la Vega said they are verifying reports from their ground troops that nine BIFF guerrillas were killed in the clash.

“We are verifying this report because the fighting was very intense. There should be casualties on their side,” de la Vega said, adding 13 soldiers were wounded in the attack.

He said the military operation started at 1pm Friday and was aimed to flush out the BIFF believed to be hiding in the town’s marshy areas.

Local military commander Lt. Col. Ranulfo Sevilla said that by 4pm, the BIFF rebels put up a determined attack and even tried to surround the tactical command post of the 57th Infantry Battalion in Barangay Meta, also in Datu Salibo.

“We were surprised when the BIFF fired an M203 rifle grenade from the rear. They were trying to surround the command post,” Sevilla said.

He said the timely arrival of reinforcements and artillery fire provided by the 1st Mechanized Brigade forced the rebels to withdraw.

Mayor Dimaukom said the clash triggered a new evacuation in barangays Medea, Dapiawan and Kitango.

He said their town disaster response team was still trying to account how many residents evacuated last Friday.

“Anak ko lang ang nabitbit ko. Naiwan ko na lahat sa takot (I was only able to bring along my children. I left everything because I was scared),” 30-year-old Salerda Rashid said.

Rashid said artillery shells landed near their village and one even hit a nearby coconut tree, cutting it to pieces.

Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Health Secretary Dr. Ramil Masukat said an artillery fragment hit and wounded a resident, Barahana Abdullah, 25, on her left ankle in Barangay Dapiawan.

As of Friday, the week-long all-out offensive against the BIFF has driven 9,485 families or 47, 425 persons to evacuation centers. (Froilan Gallardo/MindaNews)