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Philippine soldiers rescue MILF in ASG encounter

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine soldiers rescued members of a Muslim armed group from rival extremists despite frayed ties over the killing of 44 policemen last month, a military report said Sunday, February 8.

Members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is engaged in a peace process with the government, were besieged by the rival Abu Sayyaf group in the troubled island of Basilan on Saturday, February 7, requiring military intervention, said a statement from the regional military command.

"Three platoons... along with armoured vehicles together with some members of MILF in the area... proceeded to the encounter site to reinforce the beleaguered MILF members who were engaged in the firefight," the statement said.

One wounded MILF fighter was evacuated by the soldiers who later overran an Abu Sayyaf camp and are believed to have killed one Abu Sayyaf leader, the report added.

On January 25, troopers from the Philippine National Police-Special Action Force (PNP-SAF) entered MILF and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) territory in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao to neutralize bomb-makers Zulkifli bin Hir (alias "Marwan") and Abdul Basit Usman. 

The operation's extraction went awry, during which members of the SAF's 84th and 55th companies found themselves trapped in firefight against members of the MILF and BIFF.

Forty-four elite cops died in Mamasapano that day. 

Peace process

The incident violated a ceasefire between the government and the MILF and threatened President Benigno Aquino III's efforts to complete a peace process which would create a new autonomous Muslim area in the south.

The MILF have said they were only acting in self-defence but the killings have led many people to question their sincerity.

Aquino has said the peace process must continue to avoid a return to decades of fighting that claimed tens of thousands of lives over previous decades.

It was unclear why the MILF members were fighting guerrillas of the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim extremist group with ties to the Al-Qaeda network who have been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country's history. – Rappler.com