11 DEAD AS BIFF ATTACKS FARMERS IN MAGUINDANAO-SULTAN KUDARAT BORDERS; ARMY, PNP LAUNCH MANHUNT

CAMP SIONGCO, Maguindanao –- Military and police forces have launched massive manhunt against a band of outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who attacked several villages in the borders of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat Thursday dawn, which left 11 persons dead, an Army colonel today said.

Lt. Colonel Ricky Bunayog, 33rd Infantry Battalion commander, said seven of the fatalities were farmers and four were BIFF members who were killed during military pursuit operations.

Bunayog said heavily armed BIFF fighters stormed an Army and CAFGU detachment in Sitio Manilong, Barangay Banaba in Datu Abdullah Sangki town in Maguindanao at 3 a.m., triggering a three-hour fire fight.

Bunayog said the attackers were led by BIFF Commander Sukarno Sapal.

Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, owned up to the hostilities. He said it was triggered by a long standing land ownership dispute involving two groups of farmers in adjoining villages located in the provincial boundary.

While government forces and CAFGU were engaging the attackers in a fierce fire fight, another band of 30 BIFF bandits attacked nearby villages of Paitan, Sagasa and Takal in Esperanza, Sultan Kudarat. These villages are situated in the borders with Maguindanao.

Two male farmers, aged 25 and 52, were killed by fleeing bandits. They chanced upon the farmers spraying chemicals to their rice fields.

A mother and her son were briefly held by the armed men and used as human shields when elements of the 33rd IB chased the fleeing bandits. They were later released unharmed, Bunayog said.

In Barangay Kauran in Ampatuan town, also in Maguindanao, the BIFF killed five farmers who were last seen heading to their rice fields.

The Army said gunfire were heard in the village of Kauran and residents were told to stay home but five farmers proceeded to their farms before sunrise. Their dead bodies were recovered at about noon.

Quoting civilians, Bunayog said the five farmers were captured by the bandits and executed one by one.

Pursuing government forces found four BIFF fighters with their firearms in their escape route. Bunayog believed more bandits were either injured or hurt due to bloodstain in its escape routes.

Chief Inspector Alma Ladera, Datu Abdullah Sangki town police chief, said several civilians have fled to safer grounds and refused to return home while gun fire are still heard in the village center.

Last month, five persons from both sides were killed when two warring farmers engaged in running gun battle triggered by long standing land dispute.

Authorities believed today’s fighting was an off shoot of last month’s skirmishes.

Authorities in Abdulla Sangki town have been trying to settle the conflict. As part of the mediation, a team of soldiers from 33rd IB were deployed in the contested farm land. PNA/northboundasia.com