DATU UNSAY, Maguindanao (MindaNews / 14 July) – A 15-year-old girl died as she was caught in the crossfire in a clash between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the village of Meta in this municipality Wednesday, wherein four rebels were reportedly killed.
Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, speaking for the 6th Infantry Division, said the Army’s 34th Infantry Battalion carried out the offensive at the break of dawn after about 20 armed BIFF rebels harassed the 19th Infantry Battalion based in Barangay Kuloy in the municipality of Shariff Aguak while conducting field training exercise for neophyte soldiers.
The girl, identified as Fatimah Elian, was killed on the spot when stray bullets coming from unknown direction hit her in different parts of the body, the military said. She was reportedly laid to rest a few hours after.
Petinglay said while the training program was coordinated with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the dominant armed group which is with a peace deal with the government, they were strafed by some member of the BIFF, prompting the soldiers to launch a counterattack.
“The efforts for the training were coordinated with MILF. We were just surprised they fired towards our trainees,” she said.
She said the rebels were under a certain Commander Bungos of the BIFF.
A resident identified as Samira said they were awakened with soldiers around them. “Then gun fires followed, so we immediately evacuated,” she said.
As the soldiers and the rebels exchange gunfire, Samira and fellow villagers fled to the public market with only a few household items with them.
“What is important is the kids are out of danger,” Samira said, but added that more villagers were left behind.
Motorists travelling between Cotabato City and Isulan, Sultan Kudarat had to stop while the military conducted clearing operations near the highway.
Government MG-520 attack helicopters kept hovering in the sky and fired rockets to enemy positions. Meanwhile, more troops were sent to the site to prevent the rebel group from occupying the highway.
Abu Misry Mama, BIFF spokesperson, admitted in a mobile phone interview that his group was involved in the skirmishes but denied they suffered fatalities. He claimed the Army suffered heavy fatalities.
“We only have three wounded. We retaliated and defended our position,” he said in Filipino.
He warned of more atrocities to be carried out by “our stronger and bigger armed forces as night comes.”