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DAVAO CITY, Philippines -- A four-year old girl was killed and her father wounded when stray bullets from a machinegun supposedly fired by soldiers at Moro rebels struck an evacuation center in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao early this week, a human rights group said.
Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general of the Cotabato City-based Kawagib, said Asmayra Usman died when a bullet pierced the foot of her father, Arsad Mujahed Usman, 33, and hit her in the stomach.
The Usmans were among 400 families from Barangay Iganagampong in Datu Unsay town who sought shelter at the Mahad Nurul Ittihad in Salvo, Datu Saudi on August 6 following clashes between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces, a rebel faction that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Indayla said that, based on their interview with Usman, "He learned later on from his fellow evacuees that the soldiers encamped at Barangay Bagan in the nearby town of Guindulungan fired in the direction of the evacuation center, purportedly in pursuit of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Forces.”
She added that the police investigation indicated the bullet that wounded Usman and killed his daughter were fired from a machinegun.
Indayla said they have already informed the Commission on Human Rights about the incident and will also assist the Usmans in filing a case against the soldiers, who are from a unit under the Army’s 6th Infantry Division.
Kawagib, she added, will also file charges against government troops who, the group said, have converted a mosque in Barangay Bagan into a detachment.
A mosque, barangay health center and civilian houses in Barangays Iganagampong and Maitumaig in Datu Unsay have also been turned into military bivouacs.
"This is in violation of International Humanitarian Law, which states that places of worship should not be used as military encampments or as targets in the armed conflict. Not only are they showing disrespect to religious places of worship, they also endanger the lives of the civilians," Indayla said.
"We are supporting the call of the evacuees for a stop to the military operations in Maguindanao and the pullout the military troops from civilian communities," she added.
Ironically, the death of Asmayra came after Kawagib and the Notre Dame Center for Catechists held the interfaith “Duyog Ramadhan: Kanduli for a Just and Lasting Peace” at the evacuation center.