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Clashes erupt in south Philippines
Army claims fighters have been raiding villages for food.
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2009 14:46 GMT
Fighting between separatists and government forces has led to generations of refugees [GALLO/GETTY]

 

Heavy fighting in the southern Philippines has left 13 Muslim fighters dead and wounded dozens more, an army spokesman has said.

Five soldiers were also hurt in the clashes on Friday when troops fought members of a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) near Guindulungan town in Maguindanao province.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Ponce said: "Our artillery fire scored direct hits, killing 13 rebels."

He said helicopters and warplanes had been sent to provide air support to ground troops.

"Dozens of rebels were also wounded. Our troops are now pursuing the remnants," he added.

'Getting desperate'

Ponce said the soldiers were told by residents about the presence of a large number of members of breakaway factions of the MILF, the Philippines's largest Muslim rebel group, being outside their village.

Ponce accused the fighters of raiding villages for food, stealing grain and livestock.

"Our troops went there to protect the community," he said.

The army launched an offensive against guerrillas from the breakaway separatist group last August when they went on the rampage after peace negotiations between the government and the MILF collapsed.

Fighting across oil and gas-rich marshlands and nearby hills on the southern island of Mindanao has escalated in the past six weeks and displaced more than 50,000 families, pushing back prospects for the resumption of peace talks.

Nearly 600 people have been killed since August 2008, many of them civilians caught up in the fighting.

About 2,000 houses in Maguindanao province have been set on fire.

Source:
Agencies
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