Heightened armed conflict between the Philippine army and the breakaway Muslim rebel group, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), volatile southern island of Mindanao has left 18 people dead in one violence-filled day, the military reported on Tuesday.
Brigadier General Eduardo Pangilinan, the area’s military commander, told reporters that seventeen BIFF members and one soldier were slain in the fighting.
“One of our soldiers was killed during the (initial) attack. The 17 enemies were killed when our troops fired back and during the subsequent encounters,” he said.
Military troops remain on alert, despite a lull after the fighting which began early Monday morning with attacks on army outposts in the province of Maguindanao, later on fanning out to the nearby province of North Cotabato.
“There have been no additional encounters but we are continuing our operations on the ground,” Pangilinan added.
On the other hand, Abu Misry Mama, spokesperson for the BIFF, had a different account: “Only four have died. We would never lie about our casualties because it is an honour to die as a mujahedeen,” he said.
Mama added that BIFF’s attacks were to retaliate at the military for the abduction of a Muslim father and son on July 3; an accusation which the military has denied, calling it propaganda on the part of the rebels.
Social welfare agencies in the locale reported that a minimum of nine civilians were injured and more than 300 families had to evacuate from their homes due to the skirmish.
The BIFF, an armed Muslim rebel group opposed to the peace accord with the government, broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Muslim rebel group, in 2008.