DAVAO CITY, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – At least 5 Moro rebels and 2 government soldiers were killed in the latest clashes in Maguindanao on Saturday morning, a military official said.
Col Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops from the 2nd Mechanized Battalion were onboard a KM450 military truck heading towards Barangay Kateman in Guindulungan town when they were waylaid by suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters at around 9:15 in the morning.
“Firefight ensued for about 15 minutes and the perpetrators scampered to different directions,” Hermoso said.
Minutes after the ambush, government soldiers who are conducting pursuit operations encountered at least 20 rebels.
5 unidentified suspected rebels and 2 soldiers died in the firefight.
Hermoso said 4 soldiers were also injured in the incident.
Government forces are presently conducting pursuit operations following traces of blood along the withdrawal route of the rebels.
Agence France-Presse reported that the BIFF group had mounted attacks on Mindanao on July 6, two days before the government resumed peace talks with the region’s main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The earlier fighting had left 5 soldiers and 3 gunmen dead and sparked fears that it would affect the peace talks.
The military however ended its pursuit of the renegade rebel force before the talks resumed in Malaysia on Monday.
The peace talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million.
The two sides signed a preliminary deal in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016.
The Kuala Lumpur talks aim to spell out revenue-sharing terms with the national government in the self-rule area.
The talks were continuing on Saturday, President Benigno Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in an interview on government radio.
The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.
The BIFF is led by , a Saudi Arabia-trained cleric who was expelled by the MILF in 2011 for his hardline stance against the peace talks. – with a report from AFP/Rappler.com