Bandits block Maguindanao Highway for three hours

More troops were deployed along portions of major highway in Maguindanao after outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) blocked part of the Cotabato-Gen. Santos highway in Barangay Bagan here for about three hours starting at 3 a.m. Saturday

But the lawless group quickly dispersed then left Barangay Bagan, Guindulungan town at the break of dawn when government forces backed by armored personnel carriers started to move in from Shariff Aguak and from Guindulungan.

Soldiers from 1st Mechanized Infantry Battalion and 19th Infantry Battalion found three trailer trucks and a private car in the middle of the road used as blockade by about 40 BIFF armed men.

One of the truck drivers, Isah Said told reporters he and others were told to vacate the car by men in fatigue uniform at about 3 a.m. "I thought they were soldiers so we abide only to be told to stay beside the highway if we want to survive," he said. "They took our ignition keys and cellphones."

"We were told not to run or we will be shot," Said also said, adding that other passenger vans were stopped but told to return.

Initial reports said two trailer trucks, a ten wheeler truck and a car traversing the national highway were flagged down by armed men. The four drivers and their companions were ordered by the armed group to vacate the vehicles and to just stay on the side of the road.

One of the drivers who refused to give his identity for security reasons said the armed men pointed their guns at them.

"It was a case of sabotage for the holidays," said Chief Inspector Zukarnain Kunakon, Guindulungan town police chief who personally accompanied soldiers at the site after sunrise.

"Every start or end of special events like Ramadhan and Christmas, they do that, good now nobody was shot," Kunakon said.

Abu Misry Mama, speaking for the BIFF, admitted his group was behind the blocking of the highway. "We have information Army intelligence officers will pass by," he said. "There could have been encounters but no intelligence officers have passed by," he added.

Soldiers and armored personnel carriers from 1st Mechanized Infantry Brigade patrol the area to prevent similar incident in the future.

Traveling at night or dawn is discouraged, an Army official said asking he remained unidentified.

Source: Philippines News Agency

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