No less than 200 members of Bangsamoro’s Islamic freedom fighters are believed to have occupied Datu Paglas central market in Mindanao.
According to media reports, suspected members of the group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), stormed a town on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, forcing many residents to evacuate as the military set up roadblocks and was advancing towards the region.
As many as 200 BIFF fighters are believed to have entered Datu Paglas, a town in Mindanao’s Maguindanao province early on Saturday, state television PTV reported. Other reports place the number of fighters between 80 and 100.
According to PTV, a “leadership conflict” prompted the group of combatants, led by a certain Commander Solaiman Tudin, to occupy the city.
Video footage released by MAX FM, a radio station in the nearby town of Tacurong, showed government troops blocking a highway to Datu Paglas.
Another video clip showed thick black smoke rising from the town, as some residents fled the area.
Esmael Mangudadatu, congressman and former governor of Maguindanao, told the radio station that the main concern now is ensuring the safety of civilians. Many of the city’s residents are preparing for Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
A military spokesman for the area, identified as Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar, was also quoted by Brigada News FM, another radio station, as saying that fighters had occupied Datu Paglas market.
The BIFF is a group of armed fighters opposed to the peace deal in the southern Philippines between the main Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the central government.
According to the army, some of the BIFF fighters fought alongside the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf in the siege of Marawi in 2017, which lasted five months.
Some BIFF members are also said to have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS, also known as ISIS).
More details soon.