AFP contains Kato’s fighters; alliance holds—MNLF
THE military on Sunday admitted that renegade rebels from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were still a constant threat to civilian communities in Maguindanao despite the military victories over the group in five days of intense fighting that left 53 dead and 49 wounded.
In a statement, Col. Ramon Zagala, spokesman of the Armed Forces, said the military had successfully restricted the movements of BIFF rebels and prevented the spread of violence to nearby areas.
“However, many of BIFF’s members have standing warrants of arrest and their prolonged evasion will pose threats in communities where the BIFF is contained,” Zagala said.
Until they are arrested, he said, the rebels continue to be a threat to peace and stability in Maguindanao and neighboring provinces, he added.
A spokesman for the BIFF questioned the military’s figures and vowed to continue its attacks against the government.
“We will continue our fight until the last drop of our blood,” said Abu Misry Mama.
A spokesman for the Moro National Liberation Front , Absalom Cerveza, added that the BIFF was just regrouping and evaluating their next option in case fighting erupts again.
“The BIFF have not lost the battle, they have just retreated for a better position,” Cerveza said.
The MNLF faction led by its founder, Nur Misuari, and the BIFF have forged an informal tactical alliance that Cerveza said “was dictated by the exigencies.”
“The MNLF-BIFF forged a kind of friendship probably because both parties shared the same aspiration and destiny,” Cerveza said.
The military was able to capture a BIFF encampment in Barangay Ganta Shariff Saydona at the height of the fighting.
Operation Darkhorse against the BIFF was terminated Sunday with the expiration of the 72-hour extension granted by the Joint Ad Hoc Joint Action Group of the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which are working toward a comprehensive peace agreement that the BIFF and MNLF Misuari faction oppose.
The military operation was launched last week in support of a police drive to serve arrest warrants to BIFF members, including their leader, Ameril Umra Kato, for various crimes, including kidnap for ransom and murder.
The heavy fighting forced some 9,465 families or 35,334 people to flee their homes in the towns of of Sharif Saydona, Rajah Buayan, and Datu Piang in Maguindanao and Pikit in North Cotabato.
“Having successfully neutralized the BIFF threat in these areas, it is now safe for these civilians displaced by the fighting to return to their homes and go on with their daily lives,” the Armed Forces statement said.
Sunday’s admission meant the Armed Forces was unable to make good on its vow to decimate the BIFF.
Earlier, 6th Infantry Division spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said the 72-hour deadline granted to the military would enable them to wipe out the BIFF, a splinter group of the MILF.
Zagala’s statement also acknowledged that the BIFF continued to be a threat to the ongoing peace negotiations between the MILF and the government.
At the end of its five-day offensive, the military said it had neutralized “101 known BIFF personalities,” killing 52 of them and wounding 49 others.
They said they were also able to confiscate some firearms and explosives and seize four BIFF camps and a makeshift bomb-making factory in Barangay Ganta, Shariff Saydona Mustapha, Maguindanao.
The military said some of the BIFF casualties were “child soldiers” aged 14 to 17.
Hermoso said a government trooper was killed and 20 others were wounded in the series of firefights that started last Monday.
Eight civilians were also injured in the crossfire, the military said.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama, however, disputed the figures and said they would launch more attacks against the government.
The BIFF was founded by Ameril Umbra Kato, a former MILF commander, in 2012 after the MILF booted him out for opposing the peace talks. Before he was paralyzed due to successive strokes, Kato led several attacks on civilian communities in Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and South Cotabato.
Since then the government and MILF have tagged the BIFF “spoilers of peace.” With Florante S. Solmerin
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