Philippine military attacks hardline Muslim renegades

January 28, 2014 - 5:39:19 am
MANILA:  The Philippine military attacked a Muslim renegade faction yesterday, two days after the country’s main Muslim rebel group successfully ended negotiations to end a decades-long insurgency that has killed tens of thousands.

Soldiers, backed by artillery, attacked guerrillas of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in a remote village on the southern island of Mindanao, triggering fighting that sent hundreds of civilians fleeing, the military said.

Regional military spokesman Dickson Hermoso said the attacks were launched in a bid to arrest about 25 leaders of the BIFF, a small group of between 250 and 400 militants that is opposed to the peace process. 

The attacks began yesterday morning and were continuing throughout the day, according to Colonel Hermoso, who said there were no immediate casualties.

Hermoso said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), the 12,000-strong rebel organisation that wrapped up peace talks with the government on the weekend, was helping the military.

“The Milf are part of the law enforcement operations. They are just securing their areas so the BIFF fighters cannot enter. They are also mad at the BIFF,” he said.

Milf military spokesman Von al-Haq confirmed that the military had coordinated with the Milf before the attack.  “The BIFF cannot enter (our territories.) We have a line where we have re-positioned (personnel). If they run there, they cannot enter there unless they are surrendering,” he said.

Brigadier General Edmundo Pangilinan, one of the commanders of the operation, said it was a coincidence the attack came just after the conclusion of the peace talks with the Milf.  But he also said the army wanted “to totally neutralise the BIFF to prevent the rise of another group that may want to destroy peace”.

“We want to have this group neutralised so they won’t cause trouble... especially now that we have this positive development in our peace negotiations,” he added.