Manila, March 12 (IANS) At least 12 people, including three soldiers, have been killed in clashes between government forces and militants in southern Philippines in the past two days, the military said on Tuesday.
Major General Cirilito Sobejana, Commander of a military task force in central Mindanao, said fierce fighting erupted on Monday in a village near the municipality of Shariff Saydona Mustapha in Maguindanao province.
Apart from the three soldiers, eight members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an Islamic rebel organization, and one member of the Maute Group were also killed in the fighting, Sobejana was cited as saying by Xinhua news agency.
He said the military launched the attack after receiving reports that over 100 BIFF terrorists were seen in the vicinity of Shariff Saydona Mustapha tow, a known lair of the BIFF.
Sobejana said the insurgents were hit as fighter jets, attack helicopters and howitzers shelled their hideout, causing some 16,000 villagers to flee. The evacuees were reportedly staying in evacuation centres in the towns of Shariff Saidona, Shariff Aguak and Datu Salibo, Maguindanao.
Air and ground assault continued on Tuesday in several villages in Maguindanao, Sobejana said, adding that “we assure the public that surgical operation is targeting only the encampments of Islamic State-inspired groups of BIFF”.
The BIFF, an Islamic separatist organization based in the southern Philippines, was founded in 2010 by Ameril Umbra Kato as a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a splinter group of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).