Ten militants belonging to a Muslim rebel splinter group have been killed in a gun battle with troops in the southern Philippines, a military official told BenarNews Friday.
Army Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, commander of 33rd Infantry Battalion, said police backed by soldiers were about to serve an arrest warrant for a man called “Dimas” Thursday when he and his heavily armed colleagues opened fire, triggering a gun battle near the town of Isulan in Sultan Kudarat province, about 1,600 km (1,000 miles) south of Manila, the Philippine capital.
Dimas is a commander of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) who is wanted for murder and other crimes, police said.
The BIFF broke away from the larger separatist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which gave up its secessionist efforts and signed a peace deal with Manila three years ago in exchange for autonomy.
It was not clear whether Dimas’ group was part of the BIFF faction that engaged the army in five days of clashes early this month. Thirty-one rebels were killed in those clashes.
Cabunoc said Dimas and his men, all armed with high-powered guns opened fire at soldiers and police who were arriving to serve the warrant. Cabunoc did not mention the number of casualties from the government side.
“A fierce fighting erupted, leaving 10 dead on the side of the enemy. We recovered their bodies and turned them over to local officials,” Cabunoc said, adding Dimas managed to escape.
The police have accused BIFF members of engaging in criminal activities including cattle rustling and drug trafficking.
While it has claimed it wanted to pursue the separatist struggle in the south, the military said many in the BIFF ranks have engaged in criminality or pledged allegiance to other groups seeking to attract funding from Islamic State militants in the Middle East.