COTABATO, Philippines –Guerrillas opposed to peace talks with the Philippine government tried to overrun army outposts in the strife-torn south on Monday, killing one soldier and wounding a number of civilians, the military said.
Three rebels of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) group were also killed following the attack on Mindanao island, said Colonel Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the military unit in the area. The army deployed helicopter gunships to send the guerrillas fleeing following the audacious midnight attack which left one soldier dead, a separate military statement said.
Hermoso said two soldiers and an unknown number of civilians were also wounded. He said such an attack was expected after the BIFF began instigating the local public against the military, accusing soldiers of kidnapping a Muslim father and son. "They resorted to absurd propaganda to discredit the military," he said, adding that the military was alert for more such raids.
"The BIFF is using radio and the social media for its propaganda. These are baseless allegations." BIFF spokesman Abu Misry Mama said the assault was in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping on July 3. The BIFF split from the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in 2008. The 10,000-strong MILF has entered into a ceasefire and peace talks with the government for the creation of an autonomous region for Muslim-dominated areas in the south.
However the BIFF, which is believed to have just a few hundred fighters, has rejected the negotiations and still demands a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines. It has previously launched attacks in Mindanao in efforts to disrupt the peace efforts. In late-January, the military launched an offensive on BIFF strongholds, overrunning their bases and killing at least 53 of their fighters.
Various armed groups including the MILF have taken part in a rebellion in the southern Philippines since the 1970s aimed at winning independence or autonomy for the country's Muslim minority in Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland. About 150,000 people are estimated to have been killed in the conflict.