Philippine troops kill 44 militants in ongoing clashes in the south

Philippine soldiers standing next to their armoured personnel carriers as they man a checkpoint along a highway near the clash site between government troops and islamic militants in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, on March 8, 2018.
Philippine soldiers standing next to their armoured personnel carriers as they man a checkpoint along a highway near the clash site between government troops and islamic militants in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, on March 8, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA (XINHUA) - Philippine government troops have killed 44 militants in continuing clashes with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an army spokesman said on Sunday (March 11).

Lietenant Colonel Gerry Besana told reporters that the military offensive that started on Thursday was continuing, with 44 militants killed and 26 wounded.

He said the number of casualties was based on "intelligence information", saying troops did not recover bodies of the dead fighters.

He did not report the number of civilian or government casualties.

The military reported on Friday that heavy fighting broke out around 6am local time on Thursday between government troops and some 50 militants in Lower Salbu, a village in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province.

The province is located on Mindanao island in southern Philippines.

The BIFF comprises around 300 men based on their latest estimate, he said. The military classifies it as a terrorist organisation, along with the Abu Sayyaf Group.

The spokesman said the fighting had spread to nearby villages in Datu Saudi and Datu Unsay.

The number of the BIFF swelled to about 100 during the skirmishes, prompting the troops to call for reinforcements.

"Many died in the ground operations on the first day, many also died on the second day during artillery and close air support (operations)," Mr Besana said.

He said 34 of the 44 militants who were reported killed have been identified by the relatives.

The military believes that at least 70 BIFF have so far been killed and injured in the recent clashes. "We are still pursuing about 200 more," he said.

The latest fighting has displaced about 500 families, based on the count of local government officials. The military is helping in attending to the needs of the displaced population, said Mr Besana.

The BIFF members are mostly disgruntled former members of the larger insurgent group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) which signed peace accord with the government. The BIFF is among the several groups in Mindanao that pledged allegiance with the terror group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria a few years ago.