17 die as armed clashes continue in Mindanao
Military says it has breakaway rebel group trapped
MILF forces on patrol in coordination with government troops to prevent clashes in Maguindanao from spreading (Photo by Keith Bacongco)
At least 17 Islamists were killed and several others wounded as fighting between government troops and a breakaway rebel group entered a second day on Tuesday.
The fighting began on Monday when the military attempted to arrest members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on murder and kidnapping charges.
The BIFF is a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which is in the final stage of negotiating peace with the government.
“We are running after them so our troops engaged them again [Tuesday morning],” army spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso, said.
“We are launching a law enforcement operation against BIFF members who are on the run," he said, adding that Tuesday's clashes were centered near the village of Bakat, in Maguindanao province’s Shariff Saidona Mustapha.
Hermoso emphasized that the fighting has no bearing on a peace deal signed with the MILF at the weekend that could see a semi-autonomous Mindanao.
Maj Gen Romeo Gapuz, commander of the army's 6th Infantry Division, said the fighting is "strictly a law enforcement operation cleared by the MILF".
He downplayed the possibility of the fighting spreading, saying they have the rebels trapped.
Another military spokesman, Lt Col Ramon Zagala, said the army launched the "law enforcement operation" to put a stop to BIFF atrocities.
"We cannot allow them to do these things," said Zagala, adding that BIFF fighters "threaten the safety and security of the people in the community."
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