Rivals MILF, BIFF clash displace thousands in Maguindanao

PAGALUNGAN, Maguindanao, Feb. 16 — Rival elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters have crossed their path causing firefight and displacing thousands of residents.

The clash involving MILF and BIFF forces has taken its toll on Muslim civilians, the same group these two organizations vowed to protect.

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Thousands of civilians with their valuables from five remote villages here and in nearby Pikit town of North Cotabato fled toward the town center as rival groups figured in fierce fire fight since Saturday night.

Territorial dispute triggered the clash, according to Commander Jack Abbas of the MILF.

Abbas said the BIFF under Commander Kagi Karialan intruded the MILF territory in the village of Kalbugan, Pagalungan town in Maguindanao last week.

Since the fighting has already claimed one MILF commander, civilians fear it will turn into a bigger war.

Experiences in the past dictate they have to leave their homes for safer grounds as both armed groups were poised to finish off each other.

Mothers, fathers and their children carry valuables they can haul toward the town center. Many walked kilometers of dirt road while others boarded jeepneys, tricycles and bicycles to leave the war zone quickly.

The local government compound here with offices and covered court became a huge evacuation site as thousands seek refuge since Saturday evening until Sunday night.

Civilians are still fleeing this Monday morning, according to police and social welfare officials.

Others stayed in homes of relatives while majority stayed at the town gymnasium and Mahad (Islamic schools) in adjacent Pikit town.

“Fighting never ceases since Saturday night, our village officials told us to leave,” Pagalan Usman, a 45 year old farmer from the village of Kalbugan, Pagalungan, said.

“We expect bigger war since one MILF commander was killed, his followers will surely get back at the BIFF,” Surumanan Sitti Ager, a 55-year-old mother of six, said.

Initial estimates on the number of displaced families were pegged at 2,000 but the number could go higher as more civilians were fleeing.

Citing report from the 7th Infantry Battalion based in Pikit, Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said Datukong Ampuan alias Commander Falcon of the MILF 108th base command was killed in a clash with the group of BIFF Commander Kagi Karialan.

Speaking through his mobile phone, Abu Misri Mama, BIFF spokesperson, claimed four other MILF were killed when they attacked the group of BIFF on Saturday night.

Petinglay said the BIFF-MILF clash site was about 15 kilometers from town centers of Pagalungan and Pikit.

She said the Army are on stand by and did not interfere in the infighting but took steps to secure the civilians. (PNA/ By Edwin O. Fernandez)

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