Philippine troops have killed at least 37 Islamic fighters and captured a rebel stronghold with a bomb-producing facility.
Military officials said on Thursday that troops seized a key rebel stronghold that spans two villages in Maguindanao province and confiscated materials used for making explosive devises, following a two-day offensive.
They can take our camps but if they don't capture us, they cannot stop our jihad.
One soldier was killed and 12 others were wounded by bombs hidden around a mosque during the fighting, according to Colonel Dickson Hermoso, regional military spokesman.
"It's like a bomb factory," Hermoso said. "We don't negotiate with groups like this who threaten innocent civilians. We run after them to enforce the law."
President Benigno Aquino III said the military launched the assault to protect villages after Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement fighters staged attacks in the province.
Abu Misry, a rebel spokesman, admitted part of the group's stronghold had been taken by government forces, but denied statements that any fighters had been killed or captured, adding that seven fighters had been wounded by army shelling and rocket fire.
Peace talk tensions
"They can take our camps but if they don't capture us, they cannot stop our jihad," Misry told AP news agency by telephone.
The fighters oppose peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that took place in Malaysia last weekend and have vowed to continue protests because negotiations would not result in a separate homeland for minority Muslims in the country's south.
|Philippines army launches offensive against a splinter rebel group in the south
While the government concluded talks over a new Muslim autonomy deal with the Moro group, at least four smaller groups, including the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement and the Abu Sayyaf, continue to threaten stability in the region.
Abu Sayyaf is known for its notorious bombings, kidnappings for ransom and beheadings.
The military offensive was supposed to end Wednesday, but has been extended to Saturday as troops pursue retreating rebels, Hermoso said.
Some 10,000 villagers have fled fighting in the region.