33 jihadists killed in clash with AFP

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Thirty-three Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have been killed in  renewed firefight with the military as security forces halted pursuit operations against the jihadists who sought refuge in so-called Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) communities in Maguindanao, a military official said on Sunday.

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Blood ties have prevailed over an agreement between the MILF and the military under which the liberation front is supposed to  bar criminal elements from entering the front’s communities, according to Col. Cirilito Sobejana, the commander of the Philippine Army’s 601st Brigade.

“As far as the leadership of the MILF is concerned, ayaw nila i-accommodate yung mga [BIFF]  kaya lang blood is thicker than water, yung ibang mga myembro ng MILF are related, kapatid, tatay, anak ng nasa BIFF [They do not want to accommodate the BI but blood is thicker than water. The other members of the MILF are either brothers, fathers or sons of those in the BIFF,” Sobejana said.

Security forces almost caught up with the jihadists during hot pursuit operations but the government troops retreated when the rebels entered the MILF communities in Datu Unsay and Shariff Aguak, both in Maguindanao.

The troops are holding their ground and ready to resume the operations once the issue on the MLF presence in the communities is cleared, Sobejana said.

He announced that a meeting had been scheduled between military and government and MILF officials in Cotabato.

Sobejana, however, acknowledged that with time running out, there is a big chance that the jihadists might escape before the two parties could even start the talks.

But the security forces, he said, are doing everything to prevent the BIFF from escaping.

The BIFF sought refuge in the MILF communities after they ran out of ammunition and their casualties rose to 33 killed and 10 wounded.

On the government side, seven soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously.

Sobejana  said at least 80 jihadists had entered the MILF communities.

FERNAN MARASIGAN

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