KUALA LUMPUR: Clashes between the pro-Islamic State (IS) Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom fighters (BIFF) and security forces in the southern Philippines since Christmas Eve has killed 25 and trapped 5,000 indigenous people in their villages, according to the Philippines military and a tribal leader.
Military air strikes were launched during the clashes, which were still on-going as of Tuesday (Jan 9), in the municipalities of Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi in the Maguindanao province.
The trapped Teduray tribe in Maguindanao province are facing difficulties accessing food and water as the BIFF militants have heavily booby-trapped their land, according to one tribal leader.
“The military has killed at least 20 BIFF militants in clashes that erupted on Dec 24. The clashes are still on-going,” Major-General Arnel V dela Vega told Channel NewsAsia from Cotabato City, southern Philippines.
“Two members of the Armed Forces of Philippines and one member of the Philippine National Police also died in the clashes,” said Major-General dela Vega.
“We will not let up in our campaign against the terrorist group. The military’s concern is the safety and security of the people,” he added.
BIFF is an IS-linked group which pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sometime in 2014. It is a splinter group of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
According to Major-General dela Vega, the BIFF started massing in Teduray land two days before launching their attacks on Dec 24.
“They (BIFF) burnt at least 22 homes of the indigenous people,” he said.
Teduray community leader Pastor Jovel Tenorio told Channel NewsAsia the indigenous people are scared and many of them are hiding in the forested areas.
“They (Teduray) are in hiding as they are afraid of BIFF,” said Pastor Tenorio. “I saw BIFF burning people’s homes and firing their guns into the houses.”
BIFF also laid improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in large areas in Teduray land, trapping the villagers within the confines of their homes.
“The Tedurays are afraid to go to the market or their farms because of the booby traps. They also don’t dare go to collect water. They are facing many difficulties accessing food and water,” said the pastor.
At least one Teduray farmer, Diego Dagadas, was blown to pieces by an IED, according to the military and Pastor Tenorio.
“BIFF is trying to drive us from our homes so they can take over our land as it is fertile,” said Pastor Tenorio.
The three municipalities of Datu Hoffer, Datu Unsay and Datu Saudi in Maguindanao province are historically the Teduray ‘s ancestral home where the land is considered sacred.
A Teduray tribal leader who spoke out against BIFF’s attacks was also killed.
“The BIFF shot dead a Teduray tribal leader on Dec 29 for speaking out against their attacks,” Lieutenant-Colonel Gerry Besana, spokesman for Sixth Infantry Division of the army, told Channel NewsAsia.
"Another six were kidnapped by BIFF. But four of them managed to escape," said Lieutenant-Colonel Besana.
"Some 5,000 Teduray indigenous people are trapped by the ongoing clashes and booby traps. The military is working to clear the land of IEDs," Besana added.