16,000 flee, 12 killed as military battles militants anew

A unit of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters. MindaNews file photo by FERDINANDH CABRERA

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews/12 March) – At least 3,295 families or around 16,000 individuals have been displaced by fighting between the military and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in several villages of Maguindanao since Monday, Raisa Jajurie, Minister of Social Services of the Bangsamoro Region said.

The number is based on those now camping in Shariff Saidona, Shariff Aguak and Datu Salibo towns and does not include those who evacuated in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang towns, Jajurie said.

MGen Cirilito Sobejana, commander of Joint Task Force Central Mindanao said the military launched “surgical” air and ground assaults against BIFF encampments.

He advised the residents to stay inside the evacuation centers as clashes were still raging.

The military operation in Maguindanao had resulted in the death of eight BIFF members and one soldier from the 6th Infantry Division and the wounding of another soldier, he said.

Sobejana identified six of the BIFF casualties as Kumander Pegka, Karim Binua, Munir Madsal, Gani Lanti, Bukari Samad and Sanday Musib.

Clashes started in Barangay Inaladan, Shariff Saydona Mustapha town and spread to other areas after the BIFF sent reinforcement to their distressed comrades, he said.

Fighter jets, attack helicopters and howitzers bombarded first the location of Shiek Esmael Abdulmalik a.k.a. Abu Torayfie killing six of his men, he added.

Civil society and local nongovernment organizations like the Uniphyl-Women headed by Noraida Abo have been assisting the evacuees since Monday night.

“We were so concerned for others who have not evacuated last night from their homes as the military imposed closure of road connecting Datu Piang and Datu Saudi towns,” Abo said.

Since Monday night the military has been receiving reports of roadside bombings and attacks on their detachments.

Abu Amir, spokesperson of BIFF Karialan faction told MindaNews they were just forced to fight back after the soldiers entered their communities in Barangay Libutan.

“We are not attacking them as we are just observing a ‘wait and see’ [stance] of the newly installed Bangsamoro Region but we have to fight back once attacked,” he said.

But the military claimed the BIFF, which has reportedly pledged allegiance to the ISIS, last week carried out attacks that killed five soldiers in Cotabato City and Maguindanao.

Meanwhile, in Barangay Calaludan, Pagayawan, Lanao del Sur clashes on Monday between the military and the ISIS-inspired group led by Abu Dar left two soldiers from the 55th Infantry Battalion and one militant dead, BGen Romeo Brawner Jr., commander of the 103rd Infantry Brigade said.

As of Tuesday, clashes in Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao continued to erupt.

Bangsamoro Chief Minister Al Haj Ebrahim Murad was scheduled to hold a Regional Peace and Order Council on Tuesday to tackle the region’s security concerns. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)