Breakaway Moro rebels attack troops; 3 killed-A A +A
Monday, August 6, 2012
KIDAPAWAN CITY -- Breakaway members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) attacked army outposts in Maguindanao province on Sunday, sparking clashes that killed at least three people, officials said.
Colonel Mayoralgo dela Cruz, commanding officer of the Army's 1st mechanized brigade, said Monday that the attacks included roadside blasts using rocket-propelled grenades.
Maguindanao Governor Esmael Mangudadatu said the armed fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) staged simultaneous attacks in four Maguindanao towns around 11:30 p.m. Sunday, adding that sporadic clashes were continuing Monday.
The gunmen also attacked two army outposts in nearby North Cotabato province.
In Pikit town, police chief Inspector Elias Dandan said a grenade exploded along the highway in Barangay Batulawan around 12:45 a.m. Monday.
Dandan said the grenade was thrown just in front of a Cafgu detachment. Four Cafgu operatives and another civilian were wounded during the blast.
Mangudadatu said two attackers were killed in Maguindanao along with a villager who was hit by stray gunfire as he traveled on a motorcycle along a highway.
Eight people, including five soldiers and militiamen, were wounded in the violence, officials said.
Colonel Roy Galido, commanding officer of the Army's 40th Infantry Battalion, said BIFM members pounded detachments’ surroundings with anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades and raked bunkers with assault rifles.
The 200-strong rebel group, led by commander Ameril Umbra Kato, broke off last year from the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is involved in ongoing peace talks with the government brokered by Malaysia.
Kato's group has opposed the negotiations and vowed to continue fighting for an independent homeland for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. He had a stroke in November, plunging his group into uncertainty.
Abu Misri Mammah, a spokesman for Kato's group, said the rebels were avenging the death of a fellow rebel who was killed when army troops advanced on a guerrilla stronghold in Maguindanao last June.
"This is our revenge and this is part of our jihad (holy war)," Mammah said, adding his group has no further plans to carry out attacks unless government forces assault its hinterland strongholds.
The 11,000-strong MILF ordered its rebels to remain in their encampments as government forces battled the breakaway guerrillas.
Spokesman Von Al Haq said his group did not want to be accidentally drawn into the fighting.
The presidential adviser on the peace talks, Teresita Deles, said the attacks by Kato's forces were meant to derail the negotiations, but she assured the public the violence would not affect the talks.
At the height of the attacks, about 8,500 villagers fled from their homes; at least 131 families from several villages in Datu Unsay town in Maguindanao have evacuated. Also affected were villagers from towns of Shariff Aguak and Datu Saudi, of the same province.
Eleven of Maguindanao's 36 towns also lost power, officials said. They said the gunmen probably destroyed power lines in the mountainous region, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Manila.
A villager identified as Tho from Datu Unsay, Maguindanao, said residents evacuated to safer places since last Friday after they were warned that the BIFM fighters would launch massive attacks against the government troops in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
Tho said the villagers are experiencing difficulty. "We are still on a fast and we have no food to eat because of the fighting."
The government troops have set up road blocks along the Maguindanao-Sultan Kudarat highway to prevent civilians from being hit by bullets and mortars.
At 2 a.m., Monday, vehicles were prevented from proceeding to towns of Datu Unsay, Guindulungan, and Datu Saudi Ampatuan where the heavy exchange of gun fires was taking place.
The attack prompted the Army’s 6th Infantry Division to temporarily close the Cotabato-General Santos highway as the troops have launched clearing operations.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao OIC-Governor Mujiv Hataman condemned Monday the “aggression” in three Maguindanao towns by the breakaway group.
“The act is especially reprehensible during this time of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when devout Muslims are in the observance of fasting and are supposed to exercise utmost restraint. It is an utter disrespect of Islamic values and of the lives of countless civilians who will have to endure the effects of conflict even in the midst of the holy month,” Hataman said. (Malu Cadelina Manar of Sun.Star Davao/AP/Bong Garcia/Sunnex)