• Govt troops on the hunt for BIFF rebels

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    Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao: The recent attacks perpetrated by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) that killed an Army lieutenant and four other government troopers have prompted authorities to launch pursuit operations against BIFF rebels.

    According to the military, the BIFF can be classified as peace saboteurs bent on derailing the peace negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

    “The BIFF is hell-bent on derailing the [GPH-MILF] peace talks by launching simultaneous attacks against civilian and military installations,” said regional military spokesman Maj. Gen. Romeo Gapuz.

    The slain Army officer was identified as First Lt. Gerardo Flores who belonged to the 6th Infantry Battalion. Flores was on board an Army truck along the highway in Datu Piang town when a powerful bomb planted on the road was set off on Saturday. The blast killed Flores instantly and his two unnamed Army escorts. They died from multiple shrapnel wounds.

    Also on Saturday, combatants of the 7th Infantry Battalion (7IB) traded shots with another group of BIFF rebels in Pikit, North Cotabato killing two soldiers. They were identified as Private First Class (Pfc.) Megan Bello and Pfc. Jonathan Mores, who both belonged to the said Army’s battalion.

    BIFF spokesman Abu Misry confirmed that his group was behind Saturday’s attacks.

    “We will continue our guerilla offensives against the military until they leave Maguindanao,” Misry told Catholic-run local radio station DXMS in a telephone interview, referring to a Mindanao province where his group operates.

    Gapuz revealed that the BIFF has conducted sporadic attacks both on civilian communities and military detachments.

    On June 19, the BIFF attacked civilians in Barangay Bagumbayan in President Quirino town in Sultan Kudarat province killing a farmer and a Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Unit militia.

    On that same day, the BIFF also attacked a patrol base of the 33rd Infantry Battalion located in the same community which prompted the 6th Infantry Division to file cases against identified BIFF rebels led by Uztadz Zukarno Sapal.

    The BIFF is led by Ameril Umbrakato, a former senior MILF official who was expelled in 2011.

    His renegade group has been blamed for a series of raids across Mindanao in 2008 that left nearly 400 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

    The MILF, which is observing a ceasefire, is to resume negotiations in Malaysia on Monday.

    The talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao.

    The two sides signed a preliminary agreement in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016.

    The Malaysia talks seek to resolve remaining differences on key issues like wealth and power sharing within the proposed autonomous region, as well as disarming and demobilizing the MILF.

    The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

    WITH REPORT FROM AFP

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