ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
24 Philippine soldiers killed in Basilan
The MILF said that five of their guerrillas were also killed in the clash that lasted eight hours in Al-Barka town, a known stronghold of the rebel group.
Von al-Haq, a rebel spokesman, blamed the soldiers for the bloody encounter, saying that the government forces attacked a guerrilla base.
He said that the government troops who stormed their camp were almost wiped out.
The military denied that its troops started the fight.
“The battle was fierce and the MILF forces bravely defended the camp from government troops who attacked our positions in Al-Barka,” al-Haq said.
“MILF forces recovered so many weapons, at least 27, mostly high-powered assault rifles, including an M60 machine gun,” he added.
Security officials confirmed that 19 soldiers were killed and 13 more wounded, while one soldier was missing.
“We have recovered the bodies of six soldiers earlier reported as missing, and that brought to 19 the total number of military casualties so far. We recovered another wounded soldier who was also among those listed as missing-in-action,” said Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang, a spokesman for the Western Mindanao Command.
Al-Haq said that rebel forces took no prisoners.
“We have taken no prisoners. Our forces cordoned off a platoon of soldiers and they were almost wiped out in the fighting. Another group of government troops was also attacked and many of them ran away and escaped,” he claimed, quoting an MILF report from Al-Barka.
The MILF accused the military of violating a fragile truce when it ordered an assault on the rebel base, but Philippine Army officials also claimed that guerillas ambushed troops who were sent to the area to verify the presence of armed men there.
“The joint ceasefire committee and the ad hoc joint action group are investigating the fighting,” Cabangbang said.
Manila is negotiating peace with the MILF and the fighting occurred after negotiations for a Muslim homeland failed in August this year.
Peace talks between Manila and the MILF ended in Kuala Lumpur in August 24 without any agreement that would put an end to decades of bloody fighting in Mindanao.
The MILF, which is fighting for self-determination, said that it would pursue a sub-state in the mineral-rich, but restive region in southern Philippines.
The MILF has asked Malaysia, which is brokering the peace talks, to intervene in the deadlock.
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