COTABATO: The Philippines’ military said on Saturday its troops had killed 30 Muslim separatist guerrillas in three days of fighting on the southern island of Mindanao.
Ground troops supported by artillery barrages and rocket-firing ground-attack aircraft seized the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front camp near the town of Guindulungan on Saturday, said Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Ponce, spokesman for an army division whose units took part in the fight.
He estimated that, in addition to the 30 dead, 20 wounded rebels escaped with the camp’s defenders after they were routed by the assault that began on Thursday. Earlier, the government reported that 13 rebels were killed.
Five soldiers were wounded in the successful operation, Ponce added. “We used artillery and we used close air support, explaining the large casualty count,” he said.
Soldiers retrieved some of the bodies from shallow graves dug by the rebels for their dead comrades, he said, explaining that Muslim custom required that the dead had to be buried before sundown.
The 12,000-member MILF, however, denied suffering
any casualties, and accused the military of setting fire to the homes of Muslim families in Guindulungan.
“The soldiers torched the houses after they failed to find any rebels in the area,” MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu told reporters in a conference call.
“Muslims are fleeing their homes because they are scared of the soldiers who are notorious for their human rights records,” Kabalu claimed.
Ponce said soldiers found bunkers, an administration building, foxholes and reinforced trenches around the captured training camp, along with “improvised explosive devices,” munitions and MILF uniforms.
He said the group was behind the sacking of a string of Christian communities in Mindanao last year that touched off a major humanitarian crisis by displacing at least half a million people from their homes.
The pillage followed a Supreme Court ruling that outlawed a draft peace agreement between the MILF and President Gloria Arroyo’s government. The deal offered Muslim rule over large areas of the south of mainly Roman Catholic Philippines.