The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front first figured in gunfights in Barangay Pusaw in Sharif Saidona town and subsequently, in the neighboring Barangays Andavit and Buayan in Datu Saudi and Datu Piang municipalities in Maguindanao. Philstar.com/File photo

BIFF-MILF clashes spread to more villages in Maguindanao
John Unson (Philstar.com) - August 9, 2017 - 6:55am

MAGUINDANAO, Philippines — Sporadic clashes between religious extremists and Moro guerillas friendly to Malacañang have spread through three more villages in the province resulting in more casualties on both sides.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has a peace compact with the government, is trying to push members of a third faction in the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters to uninhabited swampy areas to prevent villagers from getting trapped in the crossfire.

The police and military have tightened security in anticipation of possible retaliations on civilian targets by the BIFF for loses in encounters with members of the MILF’s Task Force Ittihad at the border of Datu Saudi and Datu Piang towns in Maguindanao.

The two groups first figured in gunfights in Barangay Pusaw in Sharif Saidona town and subsequently, in the neighboring Barangays Andavit and Buayan in Datu Saudi and Datu Piang municipalities, respectively.

The task force is locked in a showdown since last week with BIFF militants led by Abdulmalik Esmael, whose group displays the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria when moving around to recruit members.

Local officials told reporters on Wednesday that the two groups continued exchanging shots until late Tuesday.

Army units prevented militants from getting close to populated areas with selective artillery fire as the gunfights ensued.

The military is apprehensive of Abdulmalik’s group venting ire on neutral villagers for losing more than 10 members in skirmishes with the MILF since last week.

The MILF is trying to neutralize the group of Abdulmalik in keeping with its July 1997 Agreement on General Cessation of Hostilities with Malacañang.

The interim security pact enjoins the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine National Police and the MILF to cooperate in addressing security problems besetting conflict-flashpoint areas in the south.

Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command said on Wednesday that he is thankful to the MILF for embarking on “surgical strikes” against local ISIS-inspired groups in the second district of Maguindanao.

The MILF lost five men in initial clashes with the group of Abdulmalik, who was trained in fabrication of explosives by slain Malaysian terrorist Zulkilfi bin Hir, most known as Marwan.

“We sympathize with the families of the MILF members who perished in its campaign against terrorists,” Galvez said.

Units of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division have markedly been visible along stretches of the Cotabato-General Santos Highway to prevent retreating followers of Abdulmalik from possibly attacking public conveyances to create diversions.

Soldiers initiated three days ago an extensive search for BIFF gunmen in villages along stretches of the highway in Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi towns on the behest of local officials and barangay leaders.

The BIFF is not covered by any of the security agreements government and MILF negotiators crafted to prevent hostilities that can derail the southern Mindanao peace process.

The peace initiative aims to put negotiated closure to the now five-decade Moro quest for self-governance.

The government and the MILF has two peace accords, the October 15, 2013 Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro and the March 27, 2014 Comprehensive Agreement on Bangsamoro.

The provisions of the two compacts are to be implemented via the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law now pending in Congress.

Abdulmalik originally belonged to the BIFF faction led by Imam Bongos.

He and four companions, Salahudin Hassan, Bashir Ungab, Nasser Adil and Ansari Yunos broke away and formed their own group after they got implicated in the September 2016 bombing in Davao City that left 16 dead and injured more than 60 others.

Local officials said also involved in hunt for Abdulmalik are the MILF’s 105th and 118 Base Commands, which are both operating in the second district of Maguindanao.

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