Friday, August 24, 2012

Police ready charges vs BIFM


COTABATO CITY, Philippines - The police are now documenting 21 recent violent incidents involving the bandit gang of Ameril Umrah Kato as bases in filing criminal charges against him and his lieutenants, including their spokesman, Abu Misry Mama.

Meantime, soldiers occupying four enclaves of the Kato-led Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), the military wing of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, are to stay to ensure the safe return of villagers dislocated by attacks that started from August 5 and lasted until August 11.

Senior Inspector Melecio Mina, a senior staff of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (CIDG-ARMM), said they are now coordinating with the seven evacuees that signified willingness to help identify the BIFF leaders who led the violent raids in five Maguindanao towns early this month.

“Coordination is now being initiated with the office of Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu along that line,” Mina told reporters in news briefing here Friday (August 24).

Mina said the 21 incidents involving Kato’s group include murder, multiple frustrated murders, arson and armed robbery.

More than 25,000 individuals, about half of them children and women, were displaced in the BIFF incursions where they attacked military positions and plundered villages in five Maguindanao towns in the pretext of avenging the death of a companion, Abdullah Mahmoud, whom they alleged was killed by soldiers that intruded into their highland enclave at Mount Firis last June.

Major Gen. Rey Ardo, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said all BIFF lairs around Mount Firis have been cleared of bandits and are now occupied by soldiers.

“Their camps are now occupied by soldiers. That is what we can assure you,” Ardo told reporters.

Ardo, however, declined to comment when asked if soldiers will establish camps in the abandoned BIFF strongholds.

Ardo said coordination between the government’s Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) and its counterpart in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front prevented undue encounters between MILF forces and soldiers that drove away Kato’s group.

Evacuees in the evacuation sites are still reluctant to return to their villages, which the BIFF attacked and plundered.

The acting governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Mujiv Hataman, said local government units in the five conflict-stricken towns and the ARMM’s social welfare department need to help to ensure the welfare of evacuees.

“We need an honest-to-goodness assessment first of the situation on the ground before we let them return to their villages. We cannot take chances. In the meantime, the ARMM administration and the provincial government of Maguindanao would have to also help each other tend the needs of these evacuees,” Hataman told The Star.

Maguindanao’s provincial administrator, Engineer Abdulwahab Tunga, said they will convene the local peace and order councils and local officials in the affected towns to determine measures to prevent a repeat of the BIFF attacks.

“The governor of Maguindanao already issued a memorandum to all concerned local officials and offices under the province to convene, along with the municipal disaster councils, and discuss the concerns of the evacuees and other security issues in the locality,” said Tunga, speaking on Mangudadatu’s behalf.

Tunga said the provincial government’s main concern now is how the police and military can prevent BIFF bandits from coming back to harass evacuees.

Tunga said the provincial government also supports the efforts of the CIDG-ARMM to prosecute the commanders of the BIFF.

Ardo said Army combatants will maintain high visibility along stretches of the highway traversing the five towns the BIFF attacked early this month and continue with the expansion of the security ring around the mountain ranges where the guerilla camps now under military control are located.

“Our men will continue with this calibrated surgical operations meant to drive them away,” Ardo said.

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