COTABATO CITY, Philippines – Two suspected militants were killed, and evacuations started as the military launched offensives against a group of the Dawlah Islamiya along the boundaries of Maguindanao del Sur and Cotabato provinces on the eve of the month-long Ramadan.
Brigadier General Donald Gumiran, the commander of the Army’s 602nd Infantry Brigade, said the government forces were running after the group of Almoben Sibud, who was leading about 30 armed followers in the area.
He said the ongoing military offensive, which started on Wednesday, March 22, was a “focused” operation.
Gumiran the Sibud-led group was believed to be behind several bomb attacks in some parts of Mindanao.
The military started bombing the marshland boundaries of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the Soccsksargen region, using a recently-acquired 155 mm Autonomous Truck Mounted Howitzers Systems (Atmos-2000) against the group.
Gumiran told Rappler that their specially trained ground troops were in the area, “hopefully, encircling the targets.”
As a consequence, however, a still undetermined number of civilians fled to safer grounds in the towns of Pikit and Pagalungan, and nearby areas.
Officials said evacuees were monitored in Pagalungan and Datu Montawal in Maguindanao del Sur and villages in Pikit that are now part of the BARMM Special Geographic Area.
The BARMM’s Rapid Emergency Action on Disaster Incidence (BARMM-READi) team has positioned emergency relief aid in the affected areas, according to Bangsamoro Interior Minister Naguib Sinarimbo.
“We have relief workers there, including those who fled due to Typhoon Paeng and now, due to government law enforcement operations against the ISIS-linked group in the marshland,” he said.
Sinarimbo said he has alerted local officials near and around the area of the military operation for possible retaliation and diversionary tactics.
He theorized that an attack against two soldiers at a checkpoint in Mamasapano, Maguindanao del Sur, On Wednesday, was a diversionary tactic. The incident left one soldier killed and two others, including a civilian, hurt.
“I feel that was a diversionary attack to ease the pressure by military operations on their colleagues in the marsh. That is a pattern like in the past. So, we remind our local governments to be on alert,” Sinarimbo said.
The situation remains tense in the affected areas, with residents hoping that the conflict will soon come to an end.
Sabrina Mamasabulod, a resident of Pagalungan town in Maguindanao del Sur, said she was saddened that this happened at the start of Ramadan, a holy month for Muslims.
“It’s just like the past. It’s very disheartening to see that every time the fasting month commences, innocent people need to evacuate due to military operations,” she said. – Rappler.com
Ferdinandh Cabrera is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.
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