Manila: Soldiers captured three camps including a bomb-making lair of a Filipino-Muslim rebel group, which broke away from a 36-year old organisation that has been holding peace talks with the Philippine government since 1997, the military said.
Three major camps of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) and its armed wing, the Bangsamoro Islamic Liberation Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were taken over by the military after a week of clashes in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Colonel Ramon Zagala said in a report.
Also taken over was the bomb-making lair of the BIFF, said Zagala, adding that BIFF members were restricted to their other camps.
Despite the reduction of BIFF’s capability by the military’s 6th Infantry Division, “we continue to enforce normal law enforcement operation to pre-empt possible retaliation from the BIFF, and prevent them from attacking nearby residential and urban areas,” said Zagala.
Explaining what the 6th Infantry Division did to enforce law and order, Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman, said, “We have provided security to vital installations such as roads, public markets, churches, and all areas where people converge.”
“Local government units were told to encourage residents to give information about activities of the BIFF and ally groups for immediate (military) action,” he added.
The focus was on preventing a repeat of incidents such as the roadside bombing that hit a convoy of soldiers and journalists in areas where clashes between government soldiers and BIFF occurred, said Hermoso.
“We will do everything that needs to be done to neutralise elements that sow conflict, fear, and threat to our people in the south,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Sonny Coloma Coloma said in Manila, following the military’s announcement about the termination of the “Operation Darkhouse” versus BIFF in Maguindanao and North Cotabato.
Clashes between government soldiers and BIFF members began after the Philippine government and the MILF agreed on what to do with MILF weapons, during peace talks in Malaysia last month.
The offensive on the rebels began when government officials, with military escorts, tried to serve warrants of arrest to identified BIFF members who were behind fatal attacks in the south in 2012.
The BIFM became a faction of the MILF in 2008. Its leader, Umbra Ameril Kato, a former MILF commander, said that implementation of peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF would remain futile.
The Philippine government and the MILF signed a framework agreement on Bangsamoro in 2012, details of which were identified by both parties in several talks in 2013 until early this year.
Both parties hope to sign a political settlement for a comprehensive peace in the south, in February or March this year.
President Benigno Aquino said a commission would finalise by midyear the drafting of a proposed bill to implement the agreement forged between the Philippines government and the MILF.
Both parties have agreed to self-governance for Filipino-Muslims in an existing autonomous region, which has five provinces and one city, but is also proposed to be expanded with six towns and 800-Muslim dominated villages.