SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao: The military and the mayors of towns spanning the Liguasan Marsh have strictly imposed a ban on the use of water crafts on marshes where the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is pursuing the Islamic State-inspired Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) militants.
The restriction was imposed by the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6thID) and local executives of Salibo, Sharif Saidona and Datu Piang towns in Maguindanao since Monday to hasten the MILF’s containment of outlawed BIFF holding out in swampy areas that connect to the Liguasan Marsh.
The banca or motorboat is the most common mode of transportation in the Maguindanao marshland.
Major Gen. Ariel dela Vega, 6thID commanding general said the local government units are overseeing the temporary closure of rivers and marshes in the three towns.
MILF guerillas and a third faction in the BIFF are locked in a bloody showdown in remote barangay (villages) in the three towns since August 1.
The outlawed group, which uses the flag of the IS as its revolutionary banner, is led by Esmael Abdulmalik, a former henchman of slain Malaysian bomb-maker Zulkifli bin Hir, also known as Marwan.
The indefinite moratorium on use of boats in Salibo, Datu Piang and Sharif Saidona towns was imposed after members of the MILF intercepted two days earlier seven watercrafts, three of them loaded with firearms and explosives, that followers of Abdulmalik were to smuggle into a village along a highway.
The boats were impounded less than a week after villagers warned of militants bombing non-military targets to avenge the death of Abdulmalik’s son, Hamdi, in an encounter with pursuing MILF forces earlier.
The MILF launched an offensive against Abdulmalik’s group after six failed attempts to hoist the IS flag inside government-recognized guerrilla strongholds.
The MILF and the government are bound by a 1997 security agreement on the General Cessation of Hostilities, to cooperate in maintaining law and order in conflict-affected sites in Moro-dominated areas.
Two more MILF fighters were wounded in clashes with militants on Monday.
More than 10 MILF guerillas were injured in recurring gunfights with militants in the past three weeks, many of them still recuperating in hospitals.
Reports obtained from the office of Maguindanao police director, Senior Supt. Agustin Tello, indicated that the MILF have since lost 12 men, half of the fatalities sustained by the third BIFF faction.
JULMUNIR I. JANNARAL