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At least 23 killed as troops clash with rebels

Attacks meant to derail Mindanao peace talks, says military reporter, Manila

July 8, 2013

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At least 23 people were reported killed after clashes broke out between government troops and members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in Mindanao on Saturday.

A military spokesman confirmed that five soldiers were killed while at least 18 rebels died after the rebels launched simultaneous assaults on the military in Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces. Other reports said 31 rebels were killed.

Col. Dickson Hermoso said the rebels seemed "hell-bent on derailing the peace process" between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The BIFF is led by Commander Ameril Umbra Kato, who broke away from the MILF in 2010 after rejecting talks with the government.

Hermoso said the attacks in Datu Piang in Maguindanao, and Pikit in North Cotabato were orchestrated "to grab attention” ahead of today’s resumption of peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

BIFF spokesman, Abu Misry, told Church-run radio DXMS in Cotabato City that attacks against the military will continue "until [the soldiers] leave Maguindanao.]" 

The MILF meanwhile, said it is monitoring the situation for fear that it might escalate into other parts of the region.

The government and the MILF resumed talks today to iron out details on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which was signed by both parties last October.

The framework agreement aims to pave the way for the creation of a new autonomous political entity called the “Bangsamoro” that will replace the 23-year old Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

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