Members of radical jihadist Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) resumed their attacks in the province of Maguindanao, trading mortar fire and bullets with government forces, killing at least one soldier and wounding two others.
The recent sporadic firefights started Tuesday while troopers were trying to secure the village of Tee, Datu Salibo, Maguindanao, which the military had earlier regained from the extremists on February 21.
Clearing operations have been hampered because of the town’s muddy terrain, planted booby traps and the presence of a few remaining members of the BIFF, the military said.
Capt. Joann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Maguindanao-based 6th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army, confirmed one soldier died and two others were wounded when they were conducting security patrol in the area on Tuesday.
The two wounded army personnel were declared out of danger and undergoing treatment, she said without divulging their identities.
The slain soldier’s identity was not also released pending notice to his family.
Maj. Gen. Edmundo Pangilinan, 6th ID commander, said two successive improvised bomb explosions came in their direction as soon as his team arrived in Barangay Tee on Wednesday.
This prompted Pangilinan to order the shelling of enemy positions with mortars and air strikes. For about an hour, two MG-520 attack helicopters pounded the area with rockets while ground troops and military ambulance evacuated the wounded infantrymen to the 6th ID base.
“We actually captured the BIFF stronghold but it was littered with improvised bombs and the area remained dangerous,” Pangilinan said, adding that the Army has not issued the green light for the return of internally displaced persons’ (IDPs).
Meanwhile, Lynette Estandarte, provincial budget officer and head of the Maguindanao provincial medical and rescue team, said no one was hurt in their team which just left Barangay Tee en-route to Mamasapano town, a few minutes before the firefight broke out.
She said they will not be deterred in assisting conflict-affected civilians amid on-going firefights.
The military said troopers will continue to conduct security patrols in the village until it is declared safe and they are able to hoist the Philippine flag.
The clashes in Maguindanao erupted on February 5, when members of the BIFF attacked an army unit in Datu Salibo who were disarming a reported bomb planted under the bridge being constructed. The rebels also stormed heavy equipment used for flood control projects in the Liguashan Marsh river.
The hostilities displaced more than 5,000 families now housed at different evacuation centers in Datu Salibo and its nearby towns.
Earlier this week a main camp of the jihadist group Khilafah Islamiyah Movement (KIM) was captured by the military in the hinterlands of Butig town in Lanao del Sur following over a week of skirmishes.
Government forces were completing clearing operations in the recovered camp where a ceremonial flag-raising ceremony was conducted when the BIFF stage new attacks in Datu Salibo.
WITH REPORT FROM PNA