Military, breakaway rebels clash in Philippines south
31 Dec 2016 - 13:11
ZAMBOANGA CITY, the Philippines: Hundreds of people have fled their homes in the Philippines’ Muslim south after fighting broke out between government forces and a breakaway rebel group.
GMA News reported Saturday that clashes erupted Friday night after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which has claimed allegiance to Daesh, attacked military detachments in Datu Salibo town in troubled Maguindanao province.
Col. Felicisimo Budiongan, 1st Mechanized Brigade commander, said fighting continued past 5 a.m. Saturday (2100GMT Friday) and the number of casualties on both sides could not yet be determined.
He was also quoted as saying that due to the “huge number” of BIFF fighters, government forces used 105 mm Howitzers Cannon and two MG-520 attack helicopters.
According to Budiongan, hundreds of civilians fled to the nearby towns of Datu Piang and Datu Saudi Ampatuan for shelter.
He said he believed the attacks -- including those on military positions in neighboring Cotabato province -- were in retaliation for the recent death of a leader of BIFF’s political arm.
The vice-chairman for internal affairs of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement -- Tamarin Esmael alias Kumander Tamarin -- was killed in clashes earlier this month.
The BIFF is opposed to an ongoing peace process between the government and the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The BIFF -- like the Abu Sayyaf and Maute Group militant outfits operating in southern Mindanao -- has pledged allegiance to Daesh, prompting fears during the stalling of the peace process between the government and the MILF that Daesh could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.
Col. Warlito Limet, 2nd Mechanized Infantry Battalion commander, told news broadcaster ABS-CBN on Friday that the military is monitoring the region based off reports that armed group members had planned to conduct acts of violence during the New Year holiday.
On Wednesday night, a bombing took place during festivities in a town in central Leyte province, leaving more than 30 people injured.
Security forces in the Philippines and other across Southeast Asia have been on alert in the past weeks, tightening security for the Christmas and New Year holiday season.