PAGALUNGAN, Maguindanao (MindaNews/16 February) –
Hundreds of Moro civilians from outlying villages here
and in nearby Pikit, North Cotabato
fled following clashes since Saturday night between
rivals Moro Islamic Liberation Front
and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Children and work animals in tow,
the villagers carrying valuables
evacuated the interior villages of Kalbugan
in Pagalungan and Buliok in Pikit Sunday night
en route to the Pagalungan gymnasium in Barangay Poblacion
and in Mahad School in Poblacion Pikit, respectively.
“Walang tigil ang putukan, pina-bakwit kami ng mga barangay kapitan,”
(There was endless gunfire, the village chiefs
told us to evacuate) one of the evacuees said.
Obviously tired of the long walk,
the children fell asleep easily at 9 p.m. Sunday.
Others entertained themselves by viewing movies on portable DVD player.
In the gymnasium the children slept
close to each other on the concrete floor
covered with tarpaulins, malong (shawls) and cartons.
Carabaos, cows, goats and chickens litter
around the Pagalungan town hall compound.
More civilians arrived early Monday morning in Pagalungan Poblacion,
fearing an escalation of hostilities
following the death of one MILF commander.
Villagers said the MILF and the BIFF
have been fighting since Saturday night.
The fighting intensified following the reported
death of Commander Falcon of the MILF
in a clash with the group of BIFF commander Kagui Karialan.
BIFF spokesperson Abu Misri Mama said
four other MILF rebels were killed
when they attacked the group of Karialan.
Capt. Joanne Petinglay, 6th Infantry Division spokesperson, said
both armed groups have been “staring at each other since last week.”
“On Saturday night they clashed,
leaving one MILF commander dead,” she said,
adding the encounter site was deep inside the Maguindanao marshland.
She said they the BIFF who figured in a clash
with PNP Special Action Force (SAF)
commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao on Jan. 25
wanted to cross North Cotabato from Maguindanao
but the MILF prevented them from coming in.
She said the Army is on stand by and did not interfere in the fighting
but ensured the safety of civilians.
Civilians flee as MILF, BIFF clash