Almost 40 people have been killed in weeks-long fighting between Islamic State-linked militants and the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group that signed a peace deal with the government, officials said Thursday.
Von al Haq, military chief of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), said clashes and running gun battles have occurred in marshland areas near the town of Datu Salibo, about 800 km (500 miles) south of Manila, since the start of the month.
He said the militant group consisted of former MILF “lost command” guerrillas who joined smaller factions to support the Islamic State (IS), which had sent foreign fighters from Southeast Asia and the Middle East to back Filipino Abu Sayyaf and Maute fighters engaged in clashes with troops in nearby Marawi city since May 23.
Al Haq said the fighters belonged to Jamaah Mohajirin Ansa (JMA). Little is known about JMA except members are former MILF rebels who came out in public last year to support the IS, whose leader in the Philippines, Abu Sayyaf commander Isnilon Hapilon, led the siege in Marawi.
Additionally, the group is allied with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which splintered with the MILF to continue the rebellion.
“The fighting has been spread over several days from Aug. 2 to 19,” al Haq told BenarNews. “The fighting has so far been intense. Our fighters are sometimes swimming in the swamp while engaging in fighting.”
He said at least 10 MILF fighters died in the fighting. The military, which has been helping the MILF, said at least 26 enemy fighters were killed.
“We have overrun several strategic positions of the enemy side and recovered at least 20 improvised explosive devices,” al Haq said. “We have also recovered a black flag typically used by the IS in its attacks, including in Marawi.”
The MILF signed a peace deal with the Philippine government in 2014, officially ending its separatist rebellion in the south that began in the 1970s.
Over the years, thousands of people died in the fighting that stunted the economic growth of the country’s southern third.
Full story: BenarNews
Mark Navales and Jeoffrey Maitem
Cotabato and Marawi, Philippines
Copyright ©2017, BenarNews. Used with the permission of BenarNews.