Abu Misri Mama, a spokesman for the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, being guarded by Muslim rebels during a clandestine interview Tuesday, Aug. 14, 20120 with Mindanao Examiner and other journalists in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines, where security forces are battling BIFM fighters. (Photo by Mark Navales – Mindanao Examiner)
MAGUINDANAO (Mindanao Examiner / Aug. 14, 2012) – Philippine troops have occupied Tuesday two hinterland camps of Muslim rebels used as springboard for attacks on military and civilian targets in the restive southern province of Maguindanao, officials said.
Officials said ground forces, backed by helicopter gunships, attacked the bases used by the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement in the town of Datu Hoffer and forcing the rebels to abandon their camps.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, but a statement from the 6th Infantry Division said the bases were former communities of indigenous tribe called Teduray who were forced out of their villages by rebels.
It said the bases called Hill 714 and Hill 166 were also used by rebels to train child warriors.
“Those Hills were formerly Tedurays community. Later was turned into training venues for child warriors and used then as the staging point for the BIFF rebels in planning their atrocities against soldiers and civilians in nearby communities,” the statement sent to the Mindanao Examiner said.
It said security forces have secured the former rebel camps and that troops were searching the area for booby traps and bombs.
The rebels attacked various military detachments last week in retaliation to the killing of a BIFM member allegedly by government soldiers, an allegation strongly denied by army spokesman Col. Prudencio Asto.
“That’s not true. The BIFM launched the attacks to disrupt ongpoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front,” he said.
The BIFM was organized by Ameril Umra Kato, a senior leader of the MILF who broke away from the rebel group, to pursue an independent Islamic state in the troubled southern region.
A rebel spokesman Abu Misri Mama said they were only defending themselves from military assaults. “We did not start the fighting. It was the military and soldiers were also behind the burning of many houses and attacks on civilians,” Mama told the Mindanao Examiner in a clandestine interview.
Asto insisted the rebels were behind the atrocities and violence in Maguindanao, one of five provinces under the Muslim autonomous region. (With a report from Mark Navales)