COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: More than a thousand families, or some 70 percent of the residents in a remote village in Pikit Town, North Cotabato fled their homes after warring clans headed by commanders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) clashed again on Thursday.
Senior Inspector Sindatu Karim, chief of the Pikit municipal police office, said some 1,530 households in Barangay Talitay abandoned their homes when Commander Bhutto Mantol attacked the forces of Commanders Mukamad Andoy and Ricky Hussain at around 5:30 a.m.
The warring commanders are comrades-in-arms and all belong to the MILF, Karim said.
The site of the fighting is just a few kilometers away from Camp Rajamuda, one of the biggest MILF camps in North Cotabato.
According to the Pikit chief of police, the evacuees sought temporary refuge in the villages of Inug-og and Gli-Gli in Pikit.
The armed clashes in Barangay Talitay came two days after unidentified gunmen ambushed and killed barangay chairman Pecson Mangansakan of Brgy. Ginatilan also in Pikit Town.
Mangansakan died of several gunshot wounds after being fired at by gunmen who were on a motorcycle. His wife, Marilou, district supervisor of the Department of Education (DepEd) in Pikit-West, who was onboard the multi-cab vehicle driven by the victim, was unharmed.
Investigation disclosed that a longtime rido (family feud) was the cause Mangansakan’s murder. However, Karim pointed out the ambush had no connection to the recent clashes involving the MILF commanders in Barangay Talitay.
Meanwhile, thousands of civilians remain in different evacuation centers in the restive Muslim autonomous region following recent attacks by separatist rebels on military outposts in Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao.
About a dozen people had been killed in atrocities launched by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who are fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in southern Philippines.
The rebels have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and have attracted a number of sympathizers and recruits, although the Army continues to downplay the BIFF’s capability to launch a major assault.
The Army had the BIFF on the run following a massive campaign last year, but the Moro breakaway faction managed to regroup and recruit more members and has armed them with high-powered weapons.
There are proposals by various groups for the government to open peace talks with the BIFF, whose members are mostly former fighters of the larger MILF that had signed a peace deal with the government in 2014.
But many BIFF members have reportedly also been radicalized and have links to Malaysian and Indonesian jihadists who are being coddled by rogue MILF commanders in the troubled region.