Civilians flee fighting in Maguindanao, Cotabato as Ramadan starts

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 23 March) – Several civilians have fled fled Pagalungan and Datu Montawal towns in Maguindanao del Sur and villages in Pikit town, Cotabato that now belong to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as Special Geographic Areas, in the wake of military offensives against suspected members of the Dawlah Islamiya.

Two suspected Dawlah Islamiya members were killed and four others were injured during the military operation along the borders of the two provinces, the Army here said.

Brig. Gen. Donald Gumiran, commander of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said government forces were running after the group of Almoben Sibud of the Islamic State-inspired group that has about 30 armed followers.

Maguindanao. Map courtesy of Google

“Sibud is the leader of the group and believed to be behind bombings in our AOR (area of responsibility),” Gumiran said.

Some residents complained that it’s difficult for them as evacuees to observe Ramadan, which started on Thursday.

Sabrina Mamasabulod, a resident of Pagalungan and a facilitator for persons with disabilities said she is deeply saddened by what’s happening at the start of the month-long fasting and abstinence.

“It’s like the things in the past, very disheartening to see that every time fasting month commences they need to evacuate due to military operation,” she said.

Several bombing sorties were launched Wednesday along the marshland boundary between the two provinces.

The military is now using its recently acquired 155mm Autonomous Truck Mounted Howitzers Systems or ATMOS-2000.

“Our specially trained ground troops are in the area, hopefully circling our targets,” Gumiran said.

BARMM’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence has positioned emergency relief aid, according to Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo.

“We have relief workers there, including those who fled due to [typhoon] Paeng and now due to government law enforcement operations against the IS-linked group in the marshland,” he said.

Sinarimbo said he has alerted local officials near and around the area of operation to be on alert for possible retaliation and diversionary tactics by the armed group.

He theorized that the attack against two soldiers at a checkpoint in Mamasapano, Maguindanao del Sur was a diversionary tactic. The attack left a soldier dead and his companion and a civilian injured (Ferdinandh Cabrera/MindaNews)