COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Government forces launched on Saturday, February 21, ground and artillery attacks against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) occupying remote villages in Pikit town in North Cotabato.
Captain Joan Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said that troops under the 7th Infantry Battalion were conducting operations against the BIFF when they encountered an undetermined number of rebels at around 6:30 am in Barangay Bulol.
“Sporadic firefight is still on going. There were no reported casualties from both sides,” Petinglay said.
Captain Danilo Nieves, spokesperson of the Army’s 7th Infantry Battalion, said the concentration of their operation against the splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is in Barangay Kabasalan.
Nieves said that the MILF is not the target of their operation.
MILF chief negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal said they are not involved in the current fighting.
“The military coordinated with us their operation against BIFF. Our forces are far from the site of fighting,” Iqbal said.
The barangays of Kabasalan, Bulol and Barongis were occupied by the BIFF, the armed wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) which broke away from the MILF in 2010.
The skirmishes between the BIFF and the MILF in Pikit town and in nearby Pagalungan in Maguindanao reportedly started in February 13 over a land dispute between BIFF commander Gani Saligan and Jack Abas, MILF eastern command chief. (READ: MILF brigade commander killed in clash vs BIFF)
The military said more than 250 BIFF rebels seized the remote villages of Kabasalan and Barongis, forcing thousands of people to evacuate.
Rosemarie Alcebar, a social worker, said some of the displaced families coming from the village of Rajamudah had been planning to return to their homes prior to the latest fighting.
In Pikit alone, Alcebar said around 1,400 families have been affected by the hostilities between the BIFF and MILF.
Radio station dzMM reported that there are 16 onsite evacuation centers for families displaced by the fighting in Pikit. – Rappler.com