Philippines military kills 8 militants

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 (AFP) - The Philippine military said on Friday (March 9) it had killed at least eight Islamic militants in an operation to stop Islamist efforts to set up base in the country's south following the deadly five-month siege of Marawi city last year.

Armoured vehicles and artillery were used against about 50 gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) on Mindanao island on Thursday, local military spokesman Gerry Bisana said in a report.

The military said last month that gunmen linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group have renewed an armed campaign to set up a caliphate in the region, home to the Catholic nation's Muslim minority.

A first attempt was put down last year after a US-backed military campaign that flattened Marawi and left more than 1,100 people dead.

Survivors of the Marawi siege have recruited a fresh force of about 200 gunmen, according to the military, with President Rodrigo Duterte warning they could attack other Mindanao cities.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bisana said troops recovered the bodies of eight gunmen, although they believe the militants carried off 15 other dead comrades.

He added that a soldier was also wounded in the fighting near the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan.

"Soldiers have been vigilantly guarding the entire central Mindanao in order to constrict the firefight in specific... areas, and continue to pursue the remnants of the terror group," regional military chief, Major-General Arnel dela Vega, said.

The BIFF is a splinter group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim guerrilla force that signed a peace treaty with Manila in 2014 after a decades-long armed campaign that claimed more than 100,000 lives by official estimates.

The MILF has echoed Mr Duterte's warnings in recent months, as the two sides pushed to get Congress to pass a Muslim self-rule law that both said would help roll back extremist gains in Mindanao.