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Philippines: More than 20 dead in clashes in S Philippines

24th Feb 2016
Philippines: More than 20 dead in clashes in S Philippines

By Hader Glang

ZAMBOANGA CITY, (AA): Around 20 suspected “terrorists” and three Philippine troops have been killed in clashes in the country’s troubled Muslim south, according to the military Tuesday.

An Armed Forces spokesperson said the number of fatalities among the opposing side since fighting broke out Saturday “is subject to verification”, without specifying which of the many armed groups operating in the region the attackers might belong to.

“The initial information from various sources is that around 20 enemies were killed and scores wounded,” GMA News quoted Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla saying.

According to Padilla, the around 40 “terrorists” attacked a military detachment late Saturday in Butig town, Lanao del Sur province, and ground troops continued to be engaged in sporadic clashes as of Tuesday afternoon.

The days-long battle has left three soldiers dead – one killed in an ambush on Tuesday morning – and six others wounded. “The motive of the attack remains unknown,” Padilla said.

The militants – whose number rose to around 80 – were reportedly cordoned off as military bomber planes and attack helicopters provided reinforcement.

“The troops operating on the ground were supported by Air Force OV-10s that conducted bomb runs on known enemy positions and MG-520s that provided close air support for manuevering units,” Padilla added.

Several armed Muslim groups and a communist insurgency operate in the conflict-ridden southern island of Mindanao.

The fighting comes at a time when the military has been conducting weeks of operations against a breakaway Muslim rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), in neighboring Maguindanao province.

Col. Noel J. Detoyato, Armed Forces public affairs office chief, said in a press briefing Tuesday that more than 30 BIFF members had died in less than three weeks of clashes after the group attacked a dredging project in Datu Salibo town.

Padilla had earlier said that security forces had disarmed around 100 improvised explosive devices and other booby traps planted by the BIFF in the town, the state-run Philippine News Agency also reported.

The BIFF is opposed to the ongoing peace process between the country’s one-time largest Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the government, and has claimed allegiance to Daesh.

The law that seals the peace process — aimed at bringing an end to a separatist conflict that has killed around 150,000 people — is presently stalled in Congress, as the legislature has adjourned for election campaigning. It does not reconvene until June 30.

The BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2008 and has since rejected the peace talks.

[MILF rebels lying prone in Davao, Philippines. Photographer: Keith Kristoffer Bacongco/Creative Commons]

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