COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 19 March) – Some 15,000 individuals (not 60,000 as earlier reported), were forced to flee their homes after government forces and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) figured in a clash in Maguindanao on Thursday.
Three rebels were reportedly killed in the encounter.
The clash erupted early morning on Thursday in Kitango village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town and spread to neighboring areas where most residents marked the 53rd anniversary of the Jabidah Massacre and held a peace caravan urging for the extension of the Bangsamoro transition to 2025.
The local government of Datu Saudi Ampatuan recorded around 900 families (not 9,000 families as earlier reported), displaced as tensions escalated, municipal administrator Musib Tan said.
In Datu Salibo town, an initial count of 1,754 families fled Pamalian and Pusao villages.
The clash also affected some communities in Mamasapano, Datu Piang, Shariff Aguak and Shariff Saydona towns.
The Ministry of Social Welfare and Development (MSSD) and the Bangsamoro Rapid Emergency Action Response Team will conduct a validation and assessment of the displacement.
They have distributed sleeping kits and planned to visit Pamalian and Pusao on Friday if the military would allow them MSSD Minister Raisa Jajurie said.
“After the validation and assessment today, we will know by then the exact numbers and what assistance we can immediately provide, LGUs are working also,” she said.
Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, spokesperson of Joint Task Force Central of the 6th Infantry Division, said they responded to sightings of the BIFF and reports that Mohaimen Animbang alias Commander Karialan was planning to launch an attack.
The military used mortars, howitzers and tanks resulting in the closure of the road between Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Datu Piang town for over three hours.
Reports said the conflict was triggered by the construction of a building for the Joint Peace and Security Team (JPST), a peacekeeping force tasked to provide security to residents inside the six Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps recognized by the government.
The JPST comprises decommissioned MILF fighters, the military and Philippine National Police.
Abu Jehad, spokesperson of the BIFF under Karialan said his commander was enraged by the installation of the JPST inside the lot owned by the rebel leader’s family.
“We wanted them out, they have not communicated nor coordinated properly to install facility inside their nemesis’ house. And what’s worst, we were tagged as terrorists in our own home lot,” Jehad said.
He admitted they lost three of their comrades during the encounter. (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)