PIKIT, North Cotabato - Hundreds of families from the town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao province fled to neighbouring villages here as the military and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters traded mortar shells starting early Friday. At least two civilians have been reported killed.
Insp. Sindato Karim, officer in charge of the police here, said a total of 407 families sought refuge in the villages of Kabasalan and Bulol for fear of being caught in the crossfire as both sides shelled each other's positions.
Karim said local authorities expected the number of evacuees to increase as the town's social welfare and development office had yet to validate the presence of other evacuees in Barangays Katilakan, Barungis, Punol, Makabual and Balong.
"We need to clear the roads leading to these villages for the safety of our policemen and local government employees who will conduct validations in the area," Karim told the Inquirer in an interview.
As of Saturday morning, Karim said, sporadic gunbursts and explosions believed from mortar fire could still be heard in Datu Piang town.
Karim confirmed the death of two civilians hit by mortar shells while leaving Datu Piang town on Friday afternoon. He identified the victims as Rayhana Akmad, 8, and Kinto Akmad, 40, both residents of Barangay Lagban in Datu Piang.
Another civilian, Laila Akmad, was wounded in the incident.
Karim said the victims were crossing the Rio Grande de Mindanao on a motorized banca when they were hit by a mortar shell.
"We cannot ascertain yet who among the two warring groups fired the explosive," Karim said.