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AFP, PNP retake Maguindanao highway from Moro rebels

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Government forces recaptured Friday portions of the Cotabato-Gen. Santos highway occupied by Moro rebels and declared it open.

Col. Mayoralgo dela Cruz, 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion commander, and Maguindanao police provincial director Senior Supt. Marcelo Pintac, led government forces in crossing the villages of Iginagampong, Meta and Maitumaeg, all in Datu Unsay, which about 500 Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) have occupied for five days.

Dela Cruz said there was no more resistance from the rebels' side when ground troops backed by armored personnel carrier combed the five kilometer stretch of the highway at about 6 a.m. Friday.

After clearing the area of possible booby traps and explosives, the military declared the highway open for public commuters.

Dela Cruz said enough forces were deployed as road security "to ensure the safety of the public.”

However, Dela Cruz said the highway will be closed to traffic from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. because the BIFF forces who have employed guerrilla warfare could strike anytime.

At least 20 BIFF forces were killed in fierce firefight Wednesday and Thursday when the military, taking orders from 6th Infantry Division chief Maj. Gen. Rey Ardo, conducted “surgical operations and punitive actions.”

Dela Cruz said he based the casualty figure of BIFF to body counts seen by ground troops and civilians in areas where they were buried by their comrades.

“We are still assessing the situation, we are yet to decide when we will allow the return of evacuees,” he told reporters.

He said the BIFF forces have fled deep into the marshland during the two-day massive military offensives and clearing operations.

On Sunday night, about 500 fully armed men, under Commander Ustadz Calarianm BIFF chief of staff, simultaneously launched attacks on Army detachments in Ampatuan, Datu Unsay, Shariff Aguak, Datu Saudi and Datu Piang to avenge the death of a BIFF member in the hands of the military.

Following the opening of the highway, relief workers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have intensified their own "offensive operation," that is relief goods distribution to about 33,000 internally displaced persons in Maguindanao's 11 towns.

By PNA




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