BIFF still has 9 teachers as ‘human shields’; 6 dead in Cotabato clashes
InterAksyon, September 22, 2013
(UPDATE 3: 10:05PM) Nine teachers remained in custody for use as “human shields” by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Barangay Malingao in Midsayap, North Cotabato, the military said on Monday night. The fatality count also rose to six: two from the government side and four from the BIFF camp.
By: Dennis Arcon and Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com
September 23, 2013 10:29 AM
Capt. Tony Bulao, spokesman of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said:“As of 6:45 p.m., [there are] nine teachers [are] still held as hostages.” All the captives are from the Malingao Elementary School where BIFF elements took students and teachers as their human shields after soldiers and policemen pursued them for earlier harassing a militia unit. Malingao was among 5 to 6 barangays that was attacked by BIFF elements.
Board Member Kiely Antao helped negotiate for the release of the hostages, but only the students and civilians were released unharmed.
Among the original hostages of 20 persons, 13 were teachers and the rest were students and civilians, Bulao said.
“Correction to the figure of teachers that were held as hostage. The previous report was 7, but one of the released teachers told us they were 13. Four of them were able to disguise as common civilians and they were among those civilians released. All of them were brought to the Amado Hospital for medical check-up,” Bulao said.
Meanwhile, the two fatalities from the military side belonged to the 40th IB and the 7th IB, according to Col. Dickson Hermoso, the 6th Infantry Division spokesman.
Bracing for more violence
The offensive against the BIFF continues as of posting time.
Hundreds of civilians have fled to evacuation centers to avoid being caught in the crossfire, and others are staying with relatives.
The military and the police in the entire Central Mindanao remain on alert amid warnings by BIFF’s Abu Misrie Mama that they will sow more mayhem.
Several armed groups have been spotted in the towns of Aleosan, Alamada, Pikit and Makilala, according to Senior Supt. Danilo Peralta, North Cotabato Police Director.
BIFF tried to raid CVO area
The fighting broke out almost simultaneously around 7 a.m. in Barangays Bual Norte, Malingaw and Palunoguen.
Before this, BIFF fighters tried to enter Barangay Rangaban around 2:20 a.m. but were repulsed by members of the Civilian Volunteer Organization in the village.
The military also claimed that at least three of about 15 schoolteachers who were earlier reported trapped with an undetermined number of students at the Malingaw Central School when the clashes erupted had been taken hostage by retreating rebels.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama confirmed that their forces attacked the three villages even as he stressed this had nothing to do with the continued standoff in Zamboanga City between security forces and the Moro National Liberation Front, which entered its 15th day Monday.
Capt. Tony Bulao, spokesman of the 602nd Infantry Brigade, said the BIFF gunmen barged into the school around 8:30 a.m. and seized some of the teachers and students, using them as “human shields” against pursuing soldiers and policemen but later releasing most of them.
However, Bulao said a cornered group of gunmen were still holding on to the three teachers and North Cotabato Provincial Board member Kiely Antao was negotiating for the unconditional release of the hostages.
“We’ve a soldier killed in action and another one wounded. There were two killed and four wounded on the BIFF side. (A) firefight (is) still ongoing,” Bulao said.
“Ongoing ang habulan. May mga ni-release sila (The pursuit is continuing. They have released some hostages) while withdrawing and they have splintered into smaller groups with their own captives as human shields,” Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said in a phone interview.
The fighting also led to the suspension of classes at all levels in Midsayap for fear of a spillover.
The BIFF is a rebel group that broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In the early stage of the Zamboanga standoff, BIFF fighters were reported to have joined gunmen from the MNLF and Abu Sayyaf in unsuccessful attempts to seize Lamitan City in Basilan.
At least 15 public school teachers and a still unknown number of students are reported trapped as government troops battled the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in Midsayap town, North Cotabato.
Colonel Dickson Hermoso, 6th Infantry Division spokesman, said one soldier was killed and two others wounded in the fighting.
At the same time, Hermoso claimed the BIFF fighters allegedly took the teachers and students hostage, using them as “human shields” to cover their retreat, although he acknowledged, “May mga ni-release sila (They have released a few).”
Hundreds of residents have also fled the fighting in the three villages — Bual Norte, Malingaw and Palunoguen.
The teachers and students were at the Malingaw Central School when the fighting broke out, reports said.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misrie Mama confirmed that their forces attacked the three villages even as he stressed this had nothing to do with the continued standoff in Zamboanga City between security forces and the Moro National Liberation Front.
The BIFF is a rebel group that broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. (with a report from Jaime Sinapit, InterAksyon.com)