COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Suspected Muslim rebels killed a police chief and his driver in a southern Philippine town and wounded at least three other officers as they were traveling Tuesday to arrest a suspect, officials said.
About 10 men opened fire on a police vehicle carrying Ampatuan town police chief Lt. Reynaldo Samson, who died instantly along with his driver in the midmorning attack on a rural road in the town in Maguindanao province, regional police commander Brig. Gen. John Gano Guyguyon said.
Three other officers riding in the vehicle were wounded when they exchanged fire with the attackers, who withdrew when police reinforcements arrived, Guyguyon said. He said the police were on their way to arrest a robbery suspect.
Government forces were trying to track down the attackers, who villagers said seized the firearms of the slain policemen before fleeing.
The suspects were believed to be members of a Muslim rebel group, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, active in Ampatuan town in predominantly Muslim Maguindanao, where they have been waging a separatist insurrection for years. In 2008, the insurgents broke off from the largest Muslim group in the south, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, after it dropped a secessionist goal and embraced limited Muslim autonomy in peace talks with the government brokered by Malaysia.
The main rebel group signed a peace agreement with the government in 2014 and its leaders are now helping administer a five-province Muslim autonomous region, but the hard-line defectors have continued fighting the government. Some have aligned themselves with the Islamic State group.
A cease-fire agreement and the 2014 peace pact considerably eased decades of fighting, mostly in the southern Mindanao region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Roman Catholic nation, but smaller insurgent groups have continued to pose a threat.
Ampatuan was the site of a 2009 massacre of 58 people, including 32 media workers, traveling in a convoy in an attack plotted by a powerful political clan. Clan leaders were later convicted of masterminding the killings because a rival family had decided to challenge their long political control in Maguindanao.
Army troops, meanwhile, were deployed to a village in Lamitan city on the southern island province of Basilan because of fighting Tuesday between two groups of armed men said to be aligned with different Muslim rebel organizations.
The fighting, which left at least one person dead, alarmed villagers and caused classes in a nearby school to be suspended, police said.
It was not immediately clear what sparked the fighting or if authorities made any arrests.