COTABATO, (Xinhua): The number of those killed during ongoing clashes between government troops and rebel group Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has gone up to 41, a military official said Wednesday.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman of the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said seven others were also wounded following four days of sporadic clashes in Datu Piang town, Maguindanao province.
Hermoso said three more BIFF members were confirmed dead, bringing the total number of rebels killed to 40. At least 12 of the rebels killed have been identified. The government side recorded one fatality.
The number of fatalities on the side of the BIFF could go up as civilians informed soldiers that the rebels suffered heavy casualties following the assault launched by government security forces against the rebels.
“There were fighting since last night in the village of Ganta but it has been contained. It will not escalate. Only one battalion of soldiers were directly involved in the operation,” said Hermoso.
As to claims made by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) that their camps were hit by the military’s artillery, the spokesman said the military had asked the rebel group to “sanitize ” their ranks so that they will not be targeted.
Hermoso said the military is working closely with the MILF to prevent a “misencounter.”
Following a series of air and ground offensive since Monday, Hermoso said the rebels splintered into small groups and had resorted to planting improvised bombs.
“We have recovered and defused the bombs they planted. The latest casualties are an eight-year-old girl and a pregnant woman who was hit when the BIFF detonated a bomb at the public market of Datu Piang on Tuesday,” he said.
The BIFF, which broke away from the MILF, has carried out many deadly attacks in recent years in a bid to derail the peace negotiations between the MILF and the Philippine government.
On Jan. 25, the Philippine government and the MILF completed the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the signing of the Normalization Annex, which calls for members of the MILF to surrender their arms.