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Philippine govt halts hostilities vs Bangsamoro group

Publication Date : 03-02-2014


Philippine government troops on Sunday ended their weeklong offensive against the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Maguindanao that left over 50 rebels dead and thousands of people displaced.

Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz, chief of the Army’s 6th Division, told the Inquirer by phone that there was no need for them to extend their operation against the followers of Ameril Umbra Kato, the founder of the BIFF, saying they had captured the rebels’ main lair in Shariff Saidona town.

The military claimed only one soldier was killed while 20 others were wounded in the offensive against BIFF strongholds, dubbed “Operation Darkhorse”.

“What we are doing now is working on the stability of the areas affected by the hostilities,” Gapuz said.

Brig. Gen. Eduardo Pangilinan, commander of the 601st Brigade, said they called off their operation and will focus more on clearing the rebel areas they overran for improvised bombs.

He said Kato’s men had splintered into small groups and were hiding in civilian communities.

“Their camp is located in areas comprising the towns of Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona. It’s big in terms of area and it’s just like a community of civilians. Yesterday, we defused several bombs left behind by the rebels at their camp,” Pangilinan said, adding that the Philippine flag was raised by soldiers on the rebel’s turf.

“But our men are still on a defensive mode,” he added.

Soldiers defused a powerful homemade bomb planted in Guindulungan town on Sunday, a day after bomb attacks injured two journalists, six soldiers and four civilians.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said by phone that residents reported to soldiers their discovery of an improvised explosive device left by alleged BIFF members along the national highway in the village of Macasampen, Guindulunagn, shortly after 6am on Sunday.

“Our bomb experts immediately responded to the scene and defused the explosive. This is another attempt to inflict casualties among civilians and soldiers,” he said.

On Saturday, Jeff Caparas, reporter of TV 5 and his camera man, Adrian Bulatao, were among the 12 wounded in the bomb explosion in Maguindanao.

Despite the incident, Hermoso said they would not restrict media personnel from doing their job in conflict zones.

“It’s their call. But they must be very careful,” he said.

The military blamed the BIFF for the attack.

The BIFF has opposed the peace talks between the government and the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2008 and has vowed to continue the uprising, saying the Malaysia-brokered talks would not lead to a separate Bangsamoro homeland in Mindanao.

The military offensive forced 9,465 families, or about 35,334 individuals, to leave their homes in the towns of Sharif Saydona, Rajah Buayan and Datu Piang in Maguindanao, and Pikit, North Cotabato.

“Having successfully neutralised the BIFF threat in these areas, it is now safe for these civilians to return to their homes and go on with their daily lives,” Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, AFP public affairs officer told the Inquirer in Manila.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu, chair of the provincial peace and order council, said the fighting had adversely affected the local people and the economy.—With a report from Marlon Ramos


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