• BIFF death toll rise to 52 as Maguindanao fighting slowed down


    COTABATO CITY: A dozen more Moro bandits were killed as the military offensives against Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) entered its fifth day, the Army said Friday.

    Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said the ground skirmishes between BIFF and soldiers led to the discovery of 12 more BIFF members whose firearms were retrieved by government forces.

    Of the 52 rebel fatalities since the offensive began on January 27, about 20 have been identified by the military with the help of the local and barangay officials, according to Hermoso.

    He said the fighting has slowed down Friday when the BIFF presented little resistance.

    On the government side, the Army suffered one killed in action and 13 other wounded infantrymen.

    Hermoso, to support his claim the BIFF, a renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said 13 dead BIFF members were minors and the BIIF’s child warriors.

    “They were child fighters because they were in fatigue uniforms with BIFF markings and possessing firearms,” Hermoso said.

    He said the guerillas are now contained in Barangay Ganta and manifested limited resistance during the offensive.

    An Army source said the remaining BIFF members are expected to surrender due to lack of ammunition, manpower and food supplies “because the Army contained them in an isolated community in the marshland.”

    “Hopefully, with this development the fighting will die down and the internally displaced persons may return home,” Hermoso said.

    But defiant as ever, Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, maintained they have only four fatalities who he called as “martyrs.”

    “Our stance remains, we will fight to the last drop of our blood in defense of our rights,” Mama said in a phone interview.

    Hermoso admitted not among the 20 BIFF members with warrants of arrest had been arrested as the process of presenting the legal documents to individual persons was hampered by BIFF’s violent reaction.

    Hermoso hinted the Army might terminate the offensive in a day or two.

    The fighting was happening mostly in Maguindanao but residents of three villages in Pikit, North Cotabato have fled to safer grounds as government troops occupied the village to prevent spill over.

    Hermoso said the Army also alerted local government units in communities and towns outside the Maguindanao marshland which, traditionally, being targeted by BIFF for diversionary attacks.

    “Our troops in the cities and provinces around the marshland are already on alert since day 1 because our experiences in the past show that BIFF carry out diversionary tactics to ease the heat in Maguindanao,” Hermoso said, adding “we are pretty well aware of that and we are ready.”

    The fighting in Maguindanao came after the police and the military were to serve the warrants of arrest for BIFF members facing criminal charges like bombings, kidnapping, extortion and murders.

    It also came a day after the government and the MILF signed the final annex of the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement which the BIFF strongly opposed. PNA


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