DAVAO CITY, Philippines-A four-year old girl in an evacuation center in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao was killed by stray bullets, allegedly coming from government forces Thursday evening, August 21, a human rights group said.
Bai Ali Indayla, secretary general of Moro human rights organization Kawagib, said that the incident happened in an evacuation center in Mahad Nurul Ittihad in Salbo, Datu Saudi Ampatuan at around 11 in the evening.
Arsad Mujahed Usman, a 33-year old evacuee, said that he and his family were sleeping when bullets started to hit their tent.
Usman narrated that a bullet hit his left foot and then went directly to his daughter’s stomach.
Kawagib reported that Usman’s daughter, Asmayra, was killed instantly.
Usman said that he later learned from the other people staying in the evacuation center that the gunfire came from government troops camped at Barangay Bagan in the nearby town of Guindulungan claiming to be an effort to pursue members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.
Col Prudencio Asto, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, denied the accusations saying that the military is following the proper rules of engagements.
“These are not our guns. We only fire on enemy targets and not on civilians,” Asto said.
He added that the gunfire must be from the BIFF explaining that the group uses caliber 50 sniper rifles that can be very lethal even at the range of 3 kilometers.
The Usman family is one of the 400 families, which evacuated from Barangay Iganagampong, Datu Unsay town since August 6, Kawagib said.
Thousands of internally displaced persons are currently taking shelter on various evacuation centers in the different towns of Maguindanao and some parts of North Cotabato after the conflict between government forces and the BIFF worsened.
The recent skirmishes between government forces and the BIFF escalated when the Moro rebel group led by Ameril Umra Kato launched daring simultaneous attacks on military installations earlier this month.
Kawagib challenged the government and the military to conduct a thorough investigation to deliver justice for the victims of the incident.
“We strongly believe that the only way to a just and lasting peace is by addressing the roots of the conflict, political will and sincerity, not through militarization,” Indayla said.
Indayla added that they would help the Usman family in filing cases against the military at the Commission on Human Rights.