The island of Mindanao, in the south of the Filipino archipelago, has been the theatre of violent guerrilla fighting for the past 30 years. While Islamists demand an autonomist province and army, Christian militias have recently joined the fighting.
Renewed fighting in the restive southern Philippines has left 19 Muslim rebels dead, military officials said Thursday.
Fighting broke out Tuesday around the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan as troops hunted rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said Major Peter Edwin Navarro.
"At least three soldiers were wounded in the fighting," he said, adding that "eyewitnesses and civilians had confirmed the deaths of the MILF fighters."
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied Navarro's accounts, saying only one MILF fighter had been wounded while 10 soldiers had been killed by their forces.
Troops were closing in on MILF commander Umbra Kato, one of two senior guerrilla leaders who last month launched a series of attacks, burning and looting Christian villages.
The attacks came after the Supreme Court suspended a draft agreement on August 4 that was intended to pave the way for a formal peace accord between the government and the rebel group.
Although the violence has led to a halt in the peace talks, President Gloria Arroyo said in her address to the United Nations earlier this week that she was committed to negotiations with the Muslim rebel group.
The clashes in the southern island of Mindanao have left about 100 people dead and displaced 500,000. The violence has reached its worst point in five years, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said.
The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern third of the largely-Christian Philippines since 1978.
Date created : 2008-09-27