MANILA, Philippines — Breakaway Muslim rebels attacked army troops in two towns in the southern Philippines, sparking clashes that left 17 guerrillas and a soldier dead in a region where the government and the main Muslim rebel group were to enforce a new peace deal.
Regional military spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso said Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement fighters assaulted the soldiers in two adjacent towns in Maguindanao province Monday, prompting government forces to retaliate in fighting that also wounded three soldiers.
Hermoso said troops identified five of the rebel casualties but did not immediately provide other details.
The rebels broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group which signed a new Muslim autonomy deal in the south with the Philippine government in March. The breakaway rebels opposed the peace talks, preferring to take up arms for a separate Muslim homeland in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
The breakaway rebels have launched attacks in the past in what the government said were futile attempts to sabotage Malaysian-brokered negotiations that led to the signing in March of a new deal to establish a more powerful and potentially larger Muslim autonomous region in the south of the country.
Both sides are finalizing draft legislation, which they hope Congress will approve that will allow them to set up the new autonomous region to try to wean poverty-wracked Muslim areas from decades of unrest and violence.