Mindanao fighting escalates
Splinter group attack causes 12,000 more to flee
BIFF forces in North Cotabato (photo by Mark Navales)
Fighting between army soldiers and an Islamic rebel splinter group spread to another town in the southern Mindanao province of North Cotabato today, forcing 12,000 people to flee their homes.
About 100 armed militants of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), attacked a packing plant of US food firm Del Monte in the town of Tulunan, leaving a security guard wounded.
Yesterday a different group of BIFF fighters attacked villages near Midsayap, about 50kms to the northwest, resulting in the deaths of three government soldiers, two civilians and 11 militants.
Army spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said that the rebels executed two civilians before releasing 17 other hostages.
"While withdrawing, [BIFF soldiers] saw two civilians and shot them dead. One of them was wearing a camouflage uniform and was apparently mistaken [for a soldier]," said Hermoso.
A running gun battle continued today. “We are still clearing the area,” added Hermoso.
The escalation in fighting with BIFF soldiers comes amid ongoing peace talks between the government and the MILF that critics say has sidelined smaller groups, prompting armed retaliation.
In Zamboanga City, where clashes between government troops and MNLF fighters entered its 16th day, more civilians fled their homes in at least two villages as the military started aerial assaults on rebel positions.
Authorities said some 40 rebels with at least 15 hostages remained hiding in the outskirts of the city even after a rebel commander and seven of his men surrendered earlier in the day. A total of 32 MNLF gunmen have reportedly surrendered so far this week.
Church officials, meanwhile, said two community chapels have been destroyed in the fighting.
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