Military operations in Mindanao force Philippine villagers to flee
Infant died during exodus, village spokesman says
Some 1,300 tribal villagers from upland communities of Talaingod town in Davao del Norte province fled their homes on Wednesday for fear of being caught in a crossfire between government troops and communist rebels.
"The soldiers threatened to kill five of us for every soldier who dies during the military operation," said Datu Duloman Dawsay, one of the villagers who acts as spokesman for the group.
Dawsay said the villagers fled their homes after soldiers, who claimed they were looking for rebel camps, swooped down on the villages.
This came after the army conducted aerial bombings on the hinterland village of Bagang.
The indigenous peoples group Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon reported that soldiers also arrested an elderly Ata-Manobo woman and forced her to guide them to a number of remote villages.
Dawsay said a 12-day-old infant died on the road during the exodus while a young mother gave birth to a baby girl this morning.
Captain Rafael Marcelino, of the Army's civil-military relations office, denied that civilian communities have been targeted by soldiers.
"We respect civilians and do not bomb civilian communities," Marcelino said.
Marcelino confirmed to ucanews.com that government troops have been conducting "intensified military operations" in remote villages because of the presence of communist New People’s Army guerillas.
"The rebels have taken control of the community," Marcelino said, noting that the rebels have been occupying homes of tribal people and even constructed a corn mill in one interior village.
When told that the facility was built by the Catholic Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Marcelino responded that the corn mill was "supposedly donated."
"The rebels have been in control of everything," he said. "They have been asking the [tribal people] to pay whenever they need to have their corn milled there."
The National Alliance of Indigenous Peoples' Organizations in the Philippines last month reported that military operations against communist rebels resulted in the killing of 43 indigenous people since 2010.
Piya Malayao, alliance spokeswoman, said the killings were "liquidations designed to quell the resistance of indigenous peoples against plunder, land grabbing, militarization and human rights violations."
The alliance and other tribal peoples' groups have repeatedly issued statements warning of atrocities committed against tribal communities.
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