2 Muslim rebel camps captured in Mindanao

An armoured tank waits near the town hall in Butig Town, Lanao Del Sur, Mindanao on Feb 26, 2016, after a military operation in the area.
An armoured tank waits near the town hall in Butig Town, Lanao Del Sur, Mindanao on Feb 26, 2016, after a military operation in the area. PHOTO: AFP

Philippine forces kill 42 JI-linked militants during clashes that began last week

Philippine security forces have killed dozens of Muslim rebels and captured at least two camps in a nearly month-long offensive against militants in the restive southern island of Mindanao.

Major Filemon Tan, an army spokesman, told reporters yesterday that 42 militants from a group with ties to the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist network were killed in clashes that began last Saturday.

One of the militants' bastions in Butig town in Lanao del Sur province, 840km south of Manila, fell on Thursday, said Major Tan. Three soldiers were killed and 11 wounded.

"We are still pursuing the rebels using armoured assets," he said.

Last Saturday evening, about 80 militants led by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute, said to be former associates of an Indonesian JI operative known only as Sanusi, who was killed in 2012, attacked a detachment of the Army 51st Infantry Battalion in Butig.

Troops manning the detachment drove the militants back, and the army counter-attacked with 105m howitzers, bombers, helicopters and armoured vehicles.

The 12,000-strong Milf is observing a ceasefire with government forces in line with a peace deal it signed in 2014.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), the country's largest Muslim rebel group, repositioned thousands of its fighters in Butig to give way to the military offensive.

The 12,000-strong Milf is observing a ceasefire with government forces in line with a peace deal it signed in 2014.

The clashes in Lanao del Sur erupted just as the army was wrapping up a 24-day offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (Biff) in neighbouring Maguindanao province.

Biff is a faction of Milf that is still pursuing a secessionist war. It has ties with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A Biff camp in Datu Salibo town fell on Sunday after intense clashes that began on Feb 5.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ambrosio Rustia, head of the Army 57th Infantry Battalion, said hundreds of Biff fighters who held the camp had fled with their casualties deeper into marshlands bordering Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces.

The army, however, could not say how many militants were killed. It reported that it lost three soldiers, one during operations to clear the Biff camp of landmines.

Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao have become hotbeds of Islamist militancy in Mindanao, with Biff and other extremist groups setting up strongholds there to derail the government's peace deal with Milf and plan attacks meant to draw support from ISIS.

Earlier reports said ISIS has recognised pledges of support from Abu Sayyaf and two other militant groups operating in the Philippines.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline '2 Muslim rebel camps captured in Mindanao'. Print Edition | Subscribe