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MILF puts up evacuation center as clashes continue

THE Moro Islamic Liberation Front on Thursday  declared one of its strongholds an evacuation center for some 500 families caught in the fighting between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and bandits.

Clashes erupted on Feb. 20 when a group the military described as foreign and local terrorists harassed a military camp of the 51st  Infantry Battalion in Barangay Bayabao, Butig in Lanao del Sur.

The attack spilled over to a nearby village in Barangay Poktan in the same municipality.

Ameruddin Usman, a member of the MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities in Lanao, said they coordinated with the MILF front commander to declare Barangay Sandab an evacuation center.

MILF spokesman Von Al Haq said they received reports that the group that harassed the military in Butig called themselves members of the ISIS or the Islamic State.

Usman said about 500 families fled their homes and have found refuge in Barangay Sandab. Others went to their respective relatives in the other barangays away from the fighting.

The head of the government’s CCCH secretariat Carlos Sol Jr. said the barangay was prepared to ensure the safety of the evacuees. “There are facilities. There are schools, and other houses where the evacuees could go for temporary shelter,” he said.

Sol said that through the ceasefire arrangement with the MILF, members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces in the area were immediately informed and repositioned to prevent a misencounter between the military and the MILF.

The ceasefire between the government and the MILF was first instituted in 1997. While there had been occasional violations over the years, there were no skirmishes from 2012 to 2014.

Al Haq said the MILF had no involvement in the fighting and that they had no reason to engage the military.

“We are very sad about the attacks in Lanao del Sur.” he said.

Top BIAF Commander Abdullah Macapaar, also known as “Commander Bravo,” denied allegations that he and his group were involved in the attack on government soldiers in Balindong and Butig, Lanao del Sur. He urged the ceasefire committees of the government and MILF to investigate the attacks.

A few days ago, MILF Chairman Murad Ebrahim issued a statement saying that “the MILF will continue to uphold the peace process and ensure that all the gains will be preserved.”

The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process said on Feb. 5, the AFP’s 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade initiated a law enforcement operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters that traversed through barangays Gawang and Madia in the municipality of Datu Saudi Ampatuan and barangays Tee and Andavit in the municipality of Datu Salibo.

Before the operation, the MILF repositioned 1,737 members of its BIAF to give way to the AFP’s pursuit operations against the BIFF.

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