Philip­pine troops kill 54 Mus­lim rebels


MANILA: Philip­pine se­cu­rity forces killed 54 mil­i­tants linked to the Je­maah Is­lamiyah group in a week­long air and ground offensive in the coun­try’s south, an army spokesman said on Mon­day.

The fight­ing took place near the strong­hold of the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front, which signed a peace deal with the gov­ern­ment in 2014 to end 45 years of conflict that killed 120,000 peo­ple and stunted growth in the re­source-rich ar­eas.

Ma­jor File­mon Tan said two sol­diers were killed and nine wounded af­ter air force planes dropped bombs on the mil­i­tants’ po­si­tions and ground troops pounded them with ar­tillery fire, in the town of Butig in Lanao del Sur, from Tues­day.

“The ar­tillery fire did more dam­age than the bombs,” Tan added. “Our troops saw the en­e­mies fall and, based on es­ti­mates, we killed 54. They be­headed two sawmill work­ers and top­pled a pp­wer line in the area.”

The fight­ing has dis­placed about 2,000 peo­ple from five villages in Butig, re­gional of­fi­cials said.

About a decade ago, the MILF had ex­pelled Je­maah Is­lamiyah mem­bers from the area in prepa­ra­tion for peace talks bro­kered by Malaysia, and avoid get­ting a “ter­ror­ist” tag from the US State De­part­ment.

The mil­i­tary said Je­maah Is­lamiyah-linked mil­i­tants re­turned to the area when a law to grant au­ton­omy to Mus­lim ar­eas, un­der the gov­ern­ment deal with the MILF, failed to pass in Congress.

Pres­i­dent-elect Ro­drigo Duterte has promised to pur­sue peace with Mus­lim rebels, propos­ing a new fed­eral scheme to grant more po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic pow­ers to Mus­lim­dom­i­nated ar­eas in the south.

MIS­SION AC­COM­PLISHED: Philip­pine sol­diers stand guard next to a school build­ing af­ter re­tak­ing it from mil­i­tants in Butig town, south­ern Philippines on Mon­day. (AFP)

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