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Violence Mars Eid Celebration in Southern Philippines

Jeoffrey Maitem and Mark Navales
Cotabato, Philippines
2020-05-25
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An imam prays in an empty mosque in Cotabato City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao ahead of Eid al-Fitr, May 22, 2020.
An imam prays in an empty mosque in Cotabato City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao ahead of Eid al-Fitr, May 22, 2020.
AFP

Suspected militants killed two children and in a separate incident gunned down a government official, marring Eid al-Fitr celebrations in the southern Philippines, officials said Monday.

The militants allegedly fired a mortar round on Sunday afternoon into a cluster of houses in the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao province as villages were celebrating the end of the month-long fasting month of Ramadan, according to officials.

Two children, identified as Sadim Tambak, 10, and his sister Aslamia, 7, were pronounced dead after arriving at a hospital. Thirteen other civilians, including the children’s mother, were injured, said Musib Tan, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town administrator.

“The victims were watching television when the explosion occurred,” he said

Local police commander Lt. Melvin Laguting said officers were investigating the deadly incident, noting that the type of 81 mm mortar used in the attack is typically used by guerrillas in the area.

The incident occurred a day after four nearby army detachments came under attack by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a splinter separatist group that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), according to Tan.

Lt. Col. Edgardo Vilchez Jr., spokesman for the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops were caught off guard because they were not expecting any violence during Eid celebrations.

“We had no troops operating in the area, specifically in the village where the incident happened,” Vilchez said, adding there were no reports of injuries.

Cotabato City official killed

On Monday, Aniceto Rasalan, 58, was gunned down while having breakfast at a restaurant in Cotabato city, the capital of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the south.

Rasalan, a former journalist and current secretary to Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, was alone when he was shot by one of two assailants who quickly escaped, according to Rolen Balquin, a local public safety officer.

“The victim was declared dead on arrival at the hospital,” Balquin said.

In 2015, Rasalan, who was a correspondent for the Manila Times, survived an attempt against his life when motorcycle riding-men shot him while on his way to work.

Abdulraof Macacua, a former commander of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) who serves as a BARMM official, said he was saddened the attacks occurred while Muslims celebrated the end of fasting.

“The saddest part of the incident is that we are about to commence the next decommissioning of our combatants and I hope that this will not cause a hindrance to the process,” he said.

The MILF signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 and now controls the BARMM, an expanded autonomous region in the south. As part of the peace deal, former combatants have turned over their weapons to the government in a phased-in decommissioning.

Not participating is a group of fighters who splintered from MILF and formed BIFF in protest over leaders dropping a bid for independence.

BIFF members pledged allegiance to IS and in 2017 carried out diversionary attacks in other parts of Mindanao as militants aligned with IS and led by Isnilon Hapilon laid siege to the city of Marawi.

The five-month battle ended on Oct. 23, 2017, after Hapilon was killed with the help of U.S. and Australian intelligence assistance. Hapilon and key IS leaders were among 1,200 government forces, militants and civilians killed in what turned out to be the longest and deadliest urban warfare in recent years in the south.

Tens of thousands of Marawi residents remain in evacuation camps three years after the fighting that leveled much of the city.

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