Saturday, March 28, 2009

27 killed in new fighting in southern Philippines

COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Mar. 28, 2009) – At least 27 Muslim rebels and government soldiers were killed in fierce clashes in the southern Philippines, where security forces are battling the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Five more soldiers were also wounded in Friday clashes in the village of Bialong in Mamasapano town near in the Muslim autonomous province of Maguindanao where President Gloria Arroyo visited.

“At least 20 rebels and seven soldiers were killed in the fighting. The rebels attacked troops in the area that triggered the clashes,” Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.

Ponce said the fighting started at around 5.30 a.m. and lasted more than eight hours. He said soldiers clashed with some 80 MILF rebels.

The MILF, the country’s largest Muslim rebel group fighting for independence, said only two of its members were killed in the daylong clashes. “Only two of our fighters were killed fighting for freedom. There were more soldiers killed in the fighting,” Eid Kabalu, a senior MILF leader, said in a separate interview.

He said MILF forces also destroyed two army tanks and seized a cache of weapons, including an M60 machine gun, from the military.

Kabalu accused the military of provoking the rebels when troops raided an MILF stronghold in the village of Bialong and clashed with rebel forces. “We don’t know why troops attacked our position, but this is a violation of the cease-fire agreement the MILF signed with the Philippine government,” he said.

Peace talks between the MILF and Arroyo government collapsed in August last year after the failed signing of the Muslim homeland deal the negotiators initially signed in Malaysia, which brokered the seven-year old talks. (Mindanao Examiner)

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