COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military said Wednesday that its troops have killed at least 16 Muslim rebels aligned with the Islamic State group in a series of clashes over the last week that have displaced thousands of villagers in a southern province.
The heaviest fighting began March 17 and lasted four days in Maguindanao province’s Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, regional military spokesman Lt. Col. John Paul Baldomar said. He said troops killed 14 militants, from both the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and the Dawlah Islamiyah groups, and wounded another 25.
Baldomar said the fighting, which wounded three soldiers, erupted after the militants threatened to attack a village and a security outpost. Troops recovered seven homemade explosives and two firearms from the scene of the fighting.
During the height of the fighting, about 5,700 families had to flee to safety, the military said, noting that the fighting there had subsided.
More fighting broke out Monday when a smaller group of militants attacked a military outpost in a village in Shariff Aguak town, also in Maguindanao. The gunmen withdrew after a brief exchange of gunfire that left one militant dead, military officials said.
Another clash took place Tuesday in nearby Guindulungan town when troops battled militants who entered a rural village and alarmed residents. The fighting left one militant dead, military officials said.
Army Col. Pedro Balisi thanked villagers and town officials in the predominantly Muslim province for reporting the presence of the gunmen.
“With their help we can effectively address the threat of these violent extremist groups,” he said.
The pockets of fighting in Maguindanao underscore the remaining threats to the relative tranquility fostered by a 2014 peace deal signed by the government and the largest armed group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The Moro rebels are now supporting government forces in the fight against smaller bands of Islamic militants.
Many of the militants broke off from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and continued sporadic attacks after the main Moro rebel group ended decades of separatist insurrection and negotiated an autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation.