Saturday, August 10, 2013

2 dead as BIFF, Army clash in North Cotabato - Philippine Star

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines - Marauding bandits wounded two soldiers in an attack at an Army team patrolling the southwestern border of North Cotabato's adjoining Pikit and Aloesan towns, sparking a running firefight that sent some hundreds of villagers running for their lives.

Two members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), initially identified only as Sanday and Dimasangkay, were killed in the ensuing firefights, according to senior members of the municipal peace and order councils in the two towns.

The wounded soldiers, Sergeants Greg Sarte and Alexis Amando of the Army's 40th Infantry Battalion, were rushed to a hospital for medication.

The soldiers, led by 1Lt. Dexter Magbitang, were on their way to a secluded area at the border of Barangays Pagangan and Nalapaan, in Aleosan and Pikit, respectively, to verify the reported presence of heavily-armed BIFF bandits when they were attacked from different directions.

Magbitang and his men were dispatched to the area on request of local officials after learning of the presence of BIFF bandits, reportedly carrying powerful improvised explosive devices, as if poised to approach a secluded stretch of the Cotabato-Davao Highway.

The hostilities erupted just as Army and police bomb experts safely deactivated a powerful roadside bomb that the BIFF bandits had planted along a portion of a provincial road connecting the municipalities of Datu Odin Sinsuat and North Upi, both in the first district of Maguindanao.

Nation ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1

The prompt detonation of the bomb fashioned from a live 60 MM mortar projectile rigged with a blasting mechanism attached to a mobile phone, was preceded by a powerful blast along the same route of another explosive made up of the same materials.

North Upi Mayor Ramon Piang, chairman of the municipal peace and order council, said no one was reported hurt in the explosion.

The encounter was preceded by the bandits' harassment Friday night of the battalion's outpost in Barangay Tubak in the southwestern side of Aleosan.

Captain Antonio Bulao, spokesman of the Army's 602nd Brigade, which has jurisdiction over the 40th IB, said a patrol was dispatched to an interior area at the border of the two barangays after sunrise to check on the reported massing of BIFF bandits in the area, coming from swampy areas in nearby Maguindanao province.

Bulao, citing initial reports from the 40th IB's commanding officer, Lt.Col.Donald Gumiran, said the encounters had spilled over to at least four other areas near Barangay Lagundi in Pikit, when more bandits arrived to reinforce their companions trading shots with advancing soldiers. 

Villagers have relocated to public school campuses along the Cotabato-Davao Highway, which straddles through Pikit and Aleosan.

Local officials said so intense were the firefights that soldiers have to use 60 mm, 81 MM mortars and 105 Howitzer Cannons to prevent the bandits from getting close to farming villages where they can possibly take hostages.

The BIFF is known for using innocent civilians as human shields upon escaping.


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