Abu Sayyaf and MNLF said to be behind attack that leaves at least 20 troops dead.
The military suspects members of the Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to be behind the ambush.
“The Muslims of the Philippines want autonomy and equal rights – democracy has failed them so they have taken up arms”
Shafiq, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Major Eugene Batara, a spokesman at the headquarters of the western Mindanao military command, said soldiers recovered five bodies of killed separatists but group members carried away the rest of the dead and wounded.
Batara said Thursday’s ambush did not indicate the Abu Sayyaf was regaining strength.
“They’ve been attacking our soldiers when they’re not in battle mode,” he told The Associated Press.
“They could not fight frontally. They’re treacherous.”
Jolo has witnessed a rise in violence after the army started collecting unlicensed guns from civilians.
Sakur Tan, the Sulu provincial governor, said he has instructed the mayors of Maimbung and Indanan to prepare evacuation centres for residents who may have to flee due to the conflict.
Members of the MNLF have been unhappy with the government for trying to sign a deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which broke away from the MNLF.
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The MNLF, having signed a peace deal in 1996, said the government should first fulfil the obligations due to it.
The group claimed it was behind the ambush, saying it was in retaliation for the deaths of five people during an army offensive a day earlier.
“It was not the Abu Sayyaf,” Hatimil Hassan, the deputy chairman of the MNLF, said on local TV. “It was our troops. It was the military’s fault. They started it all.”