Butig and Datu Salibo: Mindanao towns caught in military-armed group clashes

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On Wednesday (March 2) as the Army's 6th Infantry Division commander was about to oversee a flag raising ceremony to show that it had taken back Datu Salibo from the rebels, an IED exploded some 500 meters away and a gunfight took place

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – Thousands of residents have fled from clashes in Maguindanao and Lanao Del Sur since ongoing clashes between the military and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) began early February.

Reports peg the number at 60,000, but Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Executive Secretary Laisa Alamia said authorities are still validating the figures.

To date, over a thousand families from Datu Salibo in Maguindanao have sought refuge in three different evacuation centers in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Shariff Aguak, and Shariff Saidona.

In Butig, Lanao Del Sur, around 7,000 families have fled to avoid the firefight between government troops and the armed Maute group.

Also read: Butig clashes: AFP confirms soldier beheaded by Maute group

The regional government said it is now providing aid to displaced residents.

Alamia added a number of residents are temporarily staying with their relatives because of limited space in evacuation centers.

AFP: Not yet safe for Butig residents to return home

Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are guarding entrances to Butig to stop residents from returning home.

Butig_evacuees_CNNPH.jpg Residents of Butig have yet to return to their homes.  

Related: What we know so far about the clashes in Butig

Motorists coming from the Lanao del Sur’s capital Marawi city have to go through at least five checkpoints.

All cargoes, even for those conducting relief operations, are thoroughly checked.

The military earlier assured residents that they may go back home in a few days.

Timeline: Skirmishes in Maguindanao

In Maguindanao, skirmishes have not been confined in Datu Salibo.

On February 10, 20 armed men attacked the 40th infantry battalion in the town of Rajah Buayan. The military heightened its alert status after a top BIFF official was arrested in Cotabato City.

Two days later, government troops and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) had a misencounter in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan, as the army was pursuing the BIFF. One soldier died.

The BIFF was at it again on February 17. Four civilians were killed and two others were wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded in the same town.

In a nearby town, firefight broke out once again.

The following week, the military said a barangay has yet to be cleared of land mines. In three weeks, it recorded 18 IED explosions around Maguindanao.

Related: IED explodes as Army pursues clearing ops at ex-BIFF camp

Journalist Erwin Cabilbigan reported from Cotabato City.