Soldiers attack MILF breakaway units

Karlos Manlupig
(3rd UPDATE) The MILF is helping the military run after the BIFF

BREAKAWAY GROUP. Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) standing guard during a clandestine press conference at Camp Omar, in the town of Datu Unsay in Maguindanao. August 2011. File photo by Ted Aljibe/AFP

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Only hours after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed the “Annex on Normalization,” which would pave the way for the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, fighting erupted in Maguindanao between soldiers and members of a breakaway group of the MILF.

Abu Misry Mama, spokesman of the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), said one of their units was attacked by Army troops in Sultan Sa Barongis town at around 10 am Sunday, January 26.

“The fighting lasted an hour resulting [in] one injured BIFF member,” Mama said. The rebel was hit by a splinter in his leg.

In a phone interview, Mama said the Army suddenly moved its forces and equipment to Datu Piang town, firing mortars and 105mm howitzer cannons. “Our base is far away from where their artillery are landing but we will attack the soldiers once they come closer to our position,” Mama said.

He added that many civilians have already left their homes to seek safer ground.

As of posting, military officials said soldiers have stepped up their operations against BIFF units in Datu Piang.

Regional military spokesman Dickson Hermoso told Agence France-Presse the attacks were launched in a bid to arrest about 25 leaders of the BIFF.

As of 6:50 pm Monday, Hermoso said two rebels were killed in the offensive. Mama denied this, saying they were merely wounded. 

Hermoso said the MILF was helping the military. “The MILF are part of the law enforcement operations. They are just securing their communities so those (BIFF fighters) cannot enter. They are also angry at the BIFF,” he told AFP.

MILF military spokesman Von al-Haq confirmed that the military had coordinated with the MILF before the attack. “The BIFF cannot enter (our territories.) We have a line where we have re-positioned (personnel). If they run there, they cannot enter there unless they are surrendering,” he told AFP.

‘Spoilers’

Led by former 105th Base Commander Ameril Umra Kato, the BIFF splintered from the MILF after serious disagreements on the conduct of the peace negotiations with the government.

The government and the MILF peace panels hurdled the final obstacle to a peace agreement with the signing on Saturday, January 25, of the annex on how to deal with the rebels and their firearms. (READ: Gov’t, MILF sign historic firearms deal)

Shortly after, the military vowed it will continue to stop what it calls “spoilers” of the peace process  groups staging violent attacks to oppose the agreement.

“Rest assured that our focused military operations will continue, to ensure that the peace process is not hampered or disrupted by spoilers and other threats,” said AFP spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

Among the so-called spoilers are the BIFF and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), particularly the faction led by founder Nur Misuari. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com