DAVAO CITY, Philippines—As the peace talks with a Muslim secessionist rebel group continue in Kuala Lumpur, a breakaway rebel faction ambushed government soldiers in Maguindanao on Saturday, leaving at least seven dead.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesperson of the military’s 6th Infantry Division, said troops from the 2nd Mechanized Battalion were on board a military truck heading toward Barangay Kateman in Guindulungan town when they were waylaid by armed men.
Two soldiers were slain. The Army said five suspected rebels were also killed in the encounter with about 20 rebels.
The ambush occurred at around 9:15 Saturday morning and a 15-minute firefight ensued, Hermoso reported. He said the attackers scampered in different directions.
Hermoso said four soldiers were wounded in the incident. He said government forces were conducting pursuit operations.
Hermoso said the attackers were suspected members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an armed rebel group that broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which is currently in peace negotiations with the government.
The BIFF is led by Ameril Umbra Kato, said to be a Saudi Arabia-trained cleric who was expelled by the MILF in 2011 for his hardline stance against the peace talks.
The military said the BIFF launched attacks last week in Maguindanao and nearby North Cotabato province. Five soldiers and at least 25 guerrillas were killed then.
The military believes the BIFF attacks are meant to undermine the peace talks being brokered by Malaysia.
The renegades, who broke off from the main rebel front two years ago, is led by former MILF commander Kato, who has rejected the peace talks and vowed to continue fighting for an independent homeland for minority Muslims in the predominantly Catholic Philippines. Karlos Manlupig, Inquirer Mindanao; AFP, AP