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MAGUINDANAO, Philippines – At least 3 members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed and an army captain injured during an overnight exchange of mortar and rifle grenades between the rebel group and government forces.
The clashes happened in at least 4 villages in Datu Salibo town, Maguindanao.
Intense fighting resumed early Saturday, February 6, just hours after clashes erupted Friday afternoon when a dozen BIFF members attacked the site of a bridge construction project in Barangay Butilen.
The Army’s Mechanized Infantry Brigade (MIB) had to use artillery and heavy war materials as the number of BIFF fighters continued to increase, said Lt Colonel Warlito Limet, chief of 2nd MIB based in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town.
“We suffered 3 injured personnel, including an Army captain, but all minor injuries,” Limet said.
Two civilians, identified as Mammex Indiong, 30, and Tammy Musarup, 19, were hit by stray bullets on their feet.
Citing intelligence information from the ground, the military said the BIFF suffered 3 fatalities, including the son of a BIFF leader, during the overnight fighting in the villages of Tee, Butilen, Andabit and Sambolawan, all in Datu Salibo town.
Limet said the army had responded to calls for help by a private construction company working on dredging operations in Barangay Butilen, site of a bridge construction project.
As government troops arrived, they were met by gunfire and rifle grenade attacks from the BIFF. Limet said the group had torched a backhoe used for dredging operations, and also planted improvised bombs along the way, forcing the army’s bomb experts to defuse the explosives while the firefight was ongoing.
Sporadic firefight ensued all throughout Friday evening and toward Saturday dawn.
Colonel Felicisimo Budiongan, 1st MIB commander, said the military sees a longer firefight with the rebel group after BIFF members from the towns of Talayan, Guindulungan, Datu Piang, and Shariff Aguak were seen heading towards Datu Salibo.
“The BIFF is opposed to development. The government is dredging the river and the silt is used as earthfill for a farm-to-market road. A bridge will connect these barangay roads…the BIFF does not like it, they are anti-development,” Budiongan said.
Datu Salibo Mayor Norodin Salazar said the fighting has displaced more than 1,500 people who fled overnight.
“Our people wanted to have this project completed because all of them will benefit from it. But how will it be pursued if this is happening?” he said.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama admitted the rebel group was involved in the skirmishes against government forces, but denied that they oppose the government project.
“We are here to fight for our members who were not compensated for the lands used by the construction company,” Mama said in Filipino.
As of posting, tensions remain high in the area. – Rappler.com