Troops clash with militants in BIFF-MILF stronghold
COTABATO CITY – Army soldiers clashed recently with PRO-ISIS militants in southern Philippines, but there were no reports of casualties on both sides.
The fighting broke out in Tukanalipao village in Maguindanao’s Mamasapano town, a known stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels. Officials said troops from the 40th Infantry Battalion were on a combat clearing operation when they ran into a group of BIFF members and a firefight ensued. The weekend clash lasted about 15 minutes with troops recovering four rifles.
There was no immediate statement from the BIFF which was also blamed by authorities along with the MILF for the coldblooded killing of 44 police commandos in Tukanalipao village on January 25, 2015.
The commandos, members of the special action Force, were on a clandestine mission deep inside MILF territory to capture Malaysian bomber Zulkifli bin Hir, who was eventually killed in the operation.
Police commandos were on their way to re-join their more than 300 SAF members after killing Zulkifli and cutting off his finger for DNA analysis when MILF forces, aided by BIFF militants, attacked them and sparking daylong clashes.
At least 18 MILF and five BIFF were killed in the fierce fighting that the Aquino government claimed was a mis-encounter. Barely a month later, the MILF which signed an interim peace deal with Manila, surrendered at least 16 weapons it took from slain police commandos. The surrender of the weapons further bolstered accusations by lawmakers and human rights groups that MILF rebels had finished off wounded Special Action Force commandos and collected their guns, among others, in the village of Tukanalipao.
The weapons were handed over to the police, but SAF sources claimed the guns had been tampered and that many of its parts were either taken out or replaced with defective mechanism.
Because of the killings, lawmakers shelved the Bangasamoro Basic Law (BBL) until investigations into the deadly clashes between SAF and MILF is completed. The BBL was eventually passed in the current administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, but families of the slain commandos were still crying out for justice. The MILF said it will not surrender those involved in the slayings.
BIFF members in Mindanao. (File photo by Mark Navales)