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Moros join forces

MNLF, BIFF ‘reunite’ amid combat lull; IED hurts 15

The Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front admitted on Saturday that it had formed an ‘informal’ tactical alliance with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and vowed to assist the BIFF if the military continues to push the renegade group into a corner.

“The MNLF will assist the BIFF in the event that they are pushed into a corner,” MNLF spokesman Absalom Cerveza said. “Kung hindi na nila (BIFF) kaya, at malapit na silang matumba, tutulungan namin sila.”

The MNLF spokesman said the MNLF-BIFF alliance was a matter of course since the two groups ‘have the same destiny and the same ends  -- independence.

“We’re already friends so it’s a matter of course,” said Cerveza, describing the alliance as an “organic reunification.”

He added that the BIFF is a revolutionary and legitimate front with reasonable principles seeking independence of Mindanao and should not be treated by the military as common criminals.

Cerveza said Samsudin, while officially a BIFF commander, is an ‘unofficial’ member of the MNLF, having defected into the Nur Misuari faction side in 2012 along with Samer Salamat, brother of the late MILF Chairman Hashim Salamat, Abdulawahid Jianalan, former chief security of MILF Chairman Al Haj Haj Murad Ebrahim, and a certain commander Saidale.

Cerveza claimed that some 6,500 MILF fighters joined the high-ranking defectors who were welcomed by Misuari himself during “acceptance rites’ in an MNLF lair in Jolo.

He added that BIFF commander Ustadz Samer Samsudin, told him that they are ready to defend themselves at all cost against the military’s relentless pursuit.

Last Friday, the military said its operation has so far killed 53 members of the BIFF, including a commander identified as Hassan Indal, who was killed during an air strike.

The clashes also wounded 49 others, while the government side lost a soldier after six days of intense fighting.

The BIFF, however, denied that ‘Tambako’ Indal was killed, saying that Indal was ejected by the BIFF leadership due to his ‘unIslamic activities.’

Tambako led the campaign against government forces in Maguindanao last year which led to the evacuation of about 50,000 residents.

Cerveza, meanwhile, said Samsudin and an undetermined number of combatants under his command has temporarily sought shelter somewhere in the hinterlands in Maguindanao to rest and review their battle plan.

The clashes between the military and the BIFF erupted last Sunday after government forces were about to serve arrest warrants against BIFF founder Ameril Umbra Kato and his men.

But on Saturday, the military – except for a few soldiers patrolling populated areas—and the BIFF both withdrew to their respective camps after the military’s 72-hour extension that was earlier approved by the Adhoc Joint Action Group (AJAG) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and MILF has expired.

But Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry

Division, said that they may request for a second extension as the military prepares for bigger offensives in the coming hours.

Saturday’s silence, however, was interrupted by a powerful twin blast that injured two television crew from TV-5, 10 soldiers and civilians in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

The blasts were believed to be from an improvised explosive device (IED) allegedly planted by the BIFF in Bgy. Lower Salbu, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

Maj. Dante Gania, public affairs chief of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said the explosion hit the convoy of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion composed of a civilian pick-up, TV5’s marked vehicle and 2 SFV military vehicles at around 7:33 a.m.

“We have 6 soldiers and 6 civilians wounded. Two of the civilians were crew of TV5 network,” Gania said.

Gania identified the two mediamen as reporter Jeff Caparas and cameraman Adrian Bulatao, but could not immediately identify the other victims.

Three helicopters picked up the wounded and brought them to a hospital, added Gania.

Luchi Cruz-Valdez, head of TV 5 news division, said Bulatao’s injury was “serious” with shrapnel wounds over the right side of his body.

“Bulatao is in shock but conscious, in pain,” she said in a text message.

“Caparas was also wounded but was still on his feet,” she added.

“It was a good thing they were wearing protective helmets and vests,” Hermoso said.

Caparas later said over the TV station that his crew had stopped to cover an earlier bomb blast when another explosion took place.

The military said the first explosion occurred at the 3-kilometer stretch of the national highway from Datu Saudi, Ampatuan and Datu Piang but no one was hurt during the blast. The highway was temporarily closed.

The second explosion occurred just as the television crew arrived in the area to report on the first explosion.

The wounded soldiers and civilians were brought to the headquarters of the army’s 2nd Mechanized Battalion in Maguindanao for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, the military hoisted the Philippine flag at the center of the main camp of the BIFF in Barangay Ganta in Shariff Saidona town in Maguindanao that it captured after a week of sporadic air and ground assaults.

Col. Edmund Pangilinan, commander of the 601st Infantry Brigade, and Col. Edgar Gonzales, chief of the 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade, hoisted the national flag in the middle of the more or less seven-hectare BIFF camp.

After the government forces sang the national anthem, Gonzales and Pangilinan led in offering prayers for the fallen guerrillas and a soldier.

Gonzales said his troops, who first entered the camp, recovered about 3,000 rounds of ammunition of various calibers and 300 kilos of blasting chemicals and components for making improvised explosive devices.

Quoting local officials, Gonzales said the camp had been used by the BIFF as “springboard” for its bombing and extortion activities in the towns of Maguindanao and North Cotabato.

He lauded the civilians, some of them relatives of BIFF leaders, for guiding government forces in the center of the camp, using various trails to avoid home-made explosives planted along the roads.

“It’s like guerrilla camps in movies where there were so many running trenches and criss-crossing routes,” an Army lieutenant, who identifies himself as Pentagon, said.

Gonzales said it was a well-fortified camp difficult for ground troops to penetrate.

“Our air assets destroyed most of the fortification,” he said, adding that many of the running trenches were laden with blood stain.

Hermoso, meanwhile, said they would intensify their intelligence monitoring to avert possible BIFF counter-attacks in the coming days. With Florante Solmerin

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