9 BIFF killed in clash with military
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – At least 9 suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed in the latest clashes in North Cotabato which started on New Year's Eve, a military official said.
Captain Antonio Bulao, spokesman of the 602nd Brigade, said the rebels fired upon soldiers in Sitio Mapagkaya, Barangay Paidu Pulangi, in the town of Pikit, causing a heavy exchange of gunfire.
"The troops immediately fired towards the enemy then an exchange of fires ensued. The troops requested 11 rounds of 81mm mortar fires because of heavy fires coming from the enemy," Bulao said.
Two rebels were killed on January 1, while 7 rebels were killed the next day, Bulao said.
The last encounter occurred at around 10:30 on Friday morning, January 3.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misry Mama said guerrilla units of the rebel group simultaneously attacked 4 military installations on December 31.
"We have no plans to occupy the area. As a guerrilla group, our intent is to swoop down, inflict damage to the enemy and then retreat after the attack," Mama said.
Mama however denied that claims of the military on their casualties.
"We are happy to say that all mujahideens were able to retreat alive. We cannot also say how many soldiers were hurt or killed in the attack," Mama said.
Led by former 105th Base commander Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, the BIFF splintered after serious disagreements with the conduct of the peace talks with the government. The rebel faction split off from the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, after the MILF entered into peace talks with the government to end decades of conflict that have claimed 150,000 lives.
Mama said the BIFF is aiming for the creation of a separate Islamic state.
Bulao commented that one of the possible motives behind the attack is extortion on an ongoing irrigation project in the area.
"Their initial demand was P3 million," Bulao said.
However, the project managers resisted the demand, the military official added.
Mama said the latest flare-up of fighting was unrelated to the government's peace talks with the MILF.
"This has no relation to the peace talks. We will not sabotage them," he told the Agence France-Presse.
He said the rebels attacked because soldiers allegedly harassed Muslim farmers in the area, which Bulao denied.
The military said ground forces are presently on a defensive position against rebel attacks.
"The troops were still on defensive posture for possible enemy reinforcement to recover the corpses," Bulao said.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for a separate Muslim state in the south, but has agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks with the government.
However, the BIFF have refused to abide by the ceasefire, and have staged scattered attacks on civilians and the armed forces.
President Benigno Aquino III has promised to end the insurgency by the conclusion of his six-year term in 2016.
The peace talks reached a crucial stage last month after the two sides hammered out the details of a power-sharing agreement within a proposed Muslim self-rule area in the south. – with reports from the Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com