Fighters free Filipino hostages

Workers freed unharmed as Philippine troops continue offensive against Muslim fighters.

    The military says it is trying to flush out the Abu Sayyaf blamed for a series of kidnappings [EPA]

    Cacho said the freed men were handed over to the mayor's emissaries in the coastal township of Tuburan, about 50km from Al-Barka, where five soldiers were killed and more than 20 wounded in clashes with fighters on Sunday.

    Targeting Abu Sayyaf

    Philippine military chiefs say the operation is part of a campaign to "flush out" the Abu Sayyaf which is believed responsible for a series of kidnappings".

    But Mohagher Iqbal, the chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a group fighting for a separate homeland for Filipino Muslims, told Al Jazeera on Monday that Abu Sayyaf members were not in the area and accused the military of trying to provoke a conflict with MILF forces.

    "Three men from our forces were killed, and this was clearly a military offensive against our forces in Basilan," he said.

    "The MILF is on defensive mode and the situation will escalate if the military do not stop these attacks," he warned.

    Philippine military commanders say they believe that the Abu Sayyaf is being supported by the MILF.

    The MILF formed as a breakaway group in 1977, when it split from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Following the split, the MNLF subsequently entered into negotiations with the government in Manila and signed an agreement a decade later relinquishing its stated goal of independence.

    But the 12,000-strong MILF continues to fight for political autonomy and the group is one of four fighting for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

    The Abu Sayyaf split from the MNLF in the early 1990s and US and Philippine intelligence agencies believe the group has ties to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Interactive: How does your country vote at the UN?

    Explore how your country voted on global issues since 1946, as the world gears up for the 74th UN General Assembly.

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    'We were forced out by the government soldiers'

    We dialled more than 35,000 random phone numbers to paint an accurate picture of displacement across South Sudan.

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Interactive: Plundering Cambodia's forests

    Meet the man on a mission to take down Cambodia's timber tycoons and expose a rampant illegal cross-border trade.