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Aquino vows to crush BIFF as death toll from Central Mindanao clashes rises to 40

Military howitzers used to pound suspected BIFF lairs in Maguindanao province (photo by Jo Herny, ARMM-HEART)

InterAksyon.com
The online news portal of TV5

COTABATO CITY, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 3:17 p.m.) President Benigno Aquino III vowed to crush the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters as clashes in Central Mindanao since the weekend claimed 40 lives as of Wednesday and thousands of civilians crowded into evacuation centers to escape the crossfire.

The military claims to have killed 38 BIFF fighters , many of them in a government offensive mounted Monday following a series of bombings and harassment attacks since Friday.

One soldier and a civilian have also been killed. Seven other soldiers have been wounded in the fighting while a pregnant woman and an eight-year old girl were injured in a bomb explosion at the transport terminal of the public market in the town of Datu Piang, Maguindanao.

Soldiers wounded in clashes with the BIFF at the Camp Siongco hospital

The military has deployed three battalions, or around 1,500 troops, against an estimated 250 BIFF fighters.

"The armed forces ... (are) going on these operations to prevent lawless activities from inflicting harm on our population, and to seriously degrade their abilities to again act as (peace) spoilers," Aquino told reporters in Manila.

The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center reported that the military has been conducting artillery and air strikes on suspected BIFF lairs in the Maguindanao towns of Datu Piang, Sharif Saydona, Raja Buayan and Datu Salibo.

The violence has prompted Governor Mujiv Hataman of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to call on the BIFF to stand down but Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the 6th Infantry Division, said their operations would continue until the wanted rebels are captured.

ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman

The military, however, prefers to call the assault a “law enforcement operation” in support of police out to serve warrants against BIFF members involved in attacks on several communities last year.

Authorities also deny the clashes have to do with the recent signing of the Annex of Normalization to the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The BIFF is led by former MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who broke away from the larger rebel group because he disapproved of the direction peace talks were heading.

Hermoso called on Kato, who is reportedly ailing after suffering a stroke some two years ago, to surrender and avail of government health services.

6th Infantry Division spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso

"They (rebels) set off improvised explosive devices and directed mortar fire on our troops. But they have splintered into smaller groups and our troops are now clearing these areas," Hermoso said, adding he expected the fighting to end in about three days.

But the violence could continue escalating after BIFF spokesman Abu Misri Mama vowed that their forces would not retreat.

Mama also denied that they had suffered casualties.

(photo by Dennis Arcon, InterAksyon.com)

(photo by Jo Herny, ARMM-HEART)

(photo by Jo Herny, ARMM-HEART)

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