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All-out military offensive vs. BIFF halted —AFP chief

(Updated 9:41 a.m.) The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Monday morning announced the termination of the all-out offensive against the rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang told reporters that the directive is effective Monday as the military has already achieved its objectives.

"We have achieved our objectives, including the neutralization of more than 50 percent of their ranks, the capture of their bomb factories and seizure of their enclaves and safe havens in different Maguindanao localities," Catapang disclosed at a press conference at the Villamor Air Base.

Catapang ordered the offensive on Feb. 25, exactly a month after the deadly Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao, which claimed the lives of 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force troopers. The SAF commandos were then on a mission to arrest terrorists Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan, Filipino bomb maker and Abu Sayyaf member Basit Usman, and Malaysian bomb maker Amin Baco alias Jihad. The elite police force figured in an hours-long gunfight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, its splinter group the BIFF, and private armed groups.

The military offensive has killed 139 BIFF men and wounded 53. Twelve were captured, Catapang said.

"Now, they have splintered into small groups to evade the pursuing soldiers. They are defeated in the battle field by our gallant soldiers, Marines and policemen," Catapang said of the BIFF.

"The BIFF remnants have nowhere to hide," said Catapang, adding various groups helped in the campaign, among them the MILF.

Hunt for BIFF remnants, Usman

Catapang, however, admitted there are BIFF remnants still "in their temporary hideouts inside the Liguasan marshland and even in the mountainous areas."

He said small-scale operations will continue against these BIFF remnants.

"We are now entering the new phase of our operations which is peace and development. I want to emphasize that still we will continuously deploy forces to secure communities and deny the BIFF entry into their former enclaves in Maguindanao," Catapang said.
"We will continue to hunt down the terrorists like Basit Usman and his cohorts who are now hiding outside the conflict areas," he said.

Rebuilding communities
In a statement on Monday, the AFP said they will also start facilitating "for the safe return of the residents back to their homes," in coordination with the local governments of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Maguindanao province.
The number of evacuees has gone down to 90,000, it added.
"Now that we have driven out the armed BIFF members and the small group of terrorists led by Basit Usman, we will focus our attention in rebuilding the affected communities," the AFP said. "We will help the LGU, other government agencies, and the national government as a whole in delivering public services to the people. We will support the implementation of development projects that are intended to sput the economic activities in these areas."
Among these projects is the Bridge for Peace in Barangay Tukanalipao in Mamasapano, as well as other infrastructure projects. —Rose-An Jessica Dioquino/KG, GMA News