37 killed in BIFF-military clash in Maguindanao
John Unson (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2014 - 3:31pm

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines - A total of 36 members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and a soldier have been killed in clashes between the rebel group and security forces, the military said Wednesday.

Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army's 6th Infantry Division, said local officials and villagers confirmed that a total of 18 members of the BIFF were killed in the past 12 hours.

A total of 18 rebels and a soldier were earlier reported to have been killed in the encounters since Monday.

“Unfortunately, we lost one soldier in the process of clearing the areas which the BIFF used as `takeoff spots’ for its criminal activities,” Hermoso said.

Seven other soldiers have been wounded in running firefights with BIFF bandits holding out along the Liguasan Marsh that separates the towns of Midsayap, Aleosan and Pikit in North Cotabato, and Maguindanao’s adjoining Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona municipalities.

Local officials in the affected towns confirmed on Tuesday that some of the several BIFF bandits killed in a series of encounters with pursuing soldiers from Monday dawn until early Tuesday were adolescents.

“We also have confirmation from various sources on the ground that the BIFF had indeed recruited children,” Hermoso said.

Most of the clashes between the military and the BIFF since Tuesday afternoon are concentrated in isolated areas in Datu Piang and Shariff Saidona.

A big bulk of the BIFF’s guerilla forces are operating in the towns of Datu Piang, Shariff Saidona, Salibo, Mamasapano and Datu Saudi, all in the second district of the province.

The soldiers wounded in the latest encounters with BIFF bandits are now undergoing treatment in different hospitals.

The BIFF forces counter-attacked Tuesday night by firing assault rifles and shoulder-fire 40 MM grenades at Army detachments along a highway connecting Datu Piang to Datu Saudi in the southwest of the province.

“Units of the 6th ID are guarding villages vulnerable to BIFF diversionary attacks,” Hermoso said.

The 6th ID launched what it calls a “calibrated police action” against the BIFF to weaken its control of certain areas in the boundary of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

Most senior leaders of the BIFF are wanted for heinous offenses, including multiple murders, frustrated murders, arson and robbery.

The group is not covered by the 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The MILF, which has an on-going peace talks with government, has long disowned the BIFF, which was founded by Saudi-trained cleric Ameril Ombra Kato.

Kato began as chief of the MILF’s 105th Base Command, but was booted out in late 2010 due to insubordination and irreconcilable differences with his superiors.

“We are thankful to the MILF for letting our soldiers pass through the camp en route to the hideout of these notorious BIFF forces,” Hermoso said.

Hermoso had reiterated that all of their tactical maneuvers are being closely coordinated with the MILF’s ceasefire committee.

“We also ought to thank the leaders of the Moro National Liberation Front in areas where they have camps for letting our soldiers through,” Hermoso said.

ALEOSAN AND PIKIT AMERIL OMBRA KATO BANGSAMORO ISLAMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS BASE COMMAND BIFF DATU PIANG DATU PIANG AND SHARIFF SAIDONA DATU SAUDI DICKSON HERMOSO HERMOSO
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