15 killed, thousands flee as military launches air strike, ground assault vs BIFF

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 10 June) — An estimated 10,000 residents fled their villages here and at least 12,000 from three towns in Maguindanao  following air strikes and ground assault early Sunday morning at the Ligawasan marsh near General SK Pendatun town in what the military said was a bomb-making facility of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).

In a statement late Sunday night, the Joint Task Force Central (JTFC) said 15 members of BIFF were killed, eight others were wounded, two surrendered and one bomb expert and his wife were arrested.

The JTFC said it launched a “surgical strike” on the alleged facility producing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to “clearly identify and confirm targets that complemented a focused ground operations against the BIFF which it described as “DAESH-inspired terrorist group.”

Thousands of residents flee their homes after the military launched an air strIke and ground assault at the Ligawasan marsh’s Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun at dawn Sunday, just as residents were having their suhoor, the early morning meal before fasting during Ramadan. MindaNews photo by FERDINANDH B. CABRERA

“With the successful operations, government security forces were able to negate death, destruction, and panic the produced IED could have caused the peaceful communities,” it said.

Brig. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana, newly-installed commander of the 6th Infantry Division, said the target of their operations was the bomb-making facility of the BIFF.

He said surveillance photos were taken before and after the aerial bombings.

He said they also coordinated with the Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to avoid misencounters in case troops pass by the MILF areas.

The JTFC said the soldiers confiscated a Cal .50 Sniper Rifle and Cal 5.56mm M4 Carbine from the suspects.

22,000 ‘bakwits’

Tahira Kalantungan, Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Officr, said an estimated 10,0000 persons fled five villages in Pikit — Buliok, Talitay, Bago Inged, Barongis and Rajah Muda.

The Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM HEART) immediately sent teams to conduct an assessment to determine the number of residents who fled Maguindanao’s Pagalungan, Datu Montawal and General SK Pendatun towns near the Ligawasan marsh.

As of Sunday noon, a total of 12,095 persons had fled their villages in Maguindanao’s Pagalungan (five barangays, 1,793 families), Datu Montawwal (one barangay, 251 families) and Gen. Salipada K. Pendatun (one barangay, 251 families) for a total of 2,419 families or 12,095 persons

Displaced residents who were awake for the suhoor, the early morning meal before going on fasting during the Ramadan, said they were jolted by the sound of airplanes and the explosions from the bombs dropped at around 4 a.m.

Normina Guiamaludin, 27, a resident of Bago Inged and a mother of four, said she and her children cried because she was apparently shocked she could not carry her baby.

Saguiara Andong of Barangay Buliok, 49, mother of nine, said that immediately after eating, they saw three helicopters over the “pawas” (marsh) dropping the bombs.

Displaced residents said they fear for the farm animals they left behind and the rice and corn crops ready for harvest.  (Ferdinandh B. Cabrera / MindaNews)