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25 dead as MILF battles ISIS-backed bandits

Fighting between government-backed separatist rebels and pro-Islamic State militants have killed at least 25 people in the southern Philippines, the army said yesterday, as the military battles to restore order on the troubled island of Mindanao.

Soldiers provided artillery support for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Muslim rebel group with which the government has signed a peace agreement, to try to tackle Islamist extremists, spokesman Colonel Gerry Besana said.

The MILF and the government have agreed to work together to thwart several militant groups in Mindanao that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

The island of 22 million people and roughly the size of South Korea is under martial law at least until the end of the year, as President Duterte tries to extinguish a growing threat of radical Islam taking a hold and turning the southern Philippines into a magnet for foreign extremists.

The MILF is opposed to radical groups and sees them as undermining its legitimate quest for greater autonomy for Muslims in parts of Mindanao, to end nearly 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million.

“Based on reports from ceasefire monitors, the two sides suffered 25 casualties, including 20 from the ISIS-inspired group,” Besana said, referring to Islamic State by another acronym.

He said 10 MILF were wounded and were being treated at a military hospital.

The conflict started on Aug 7 when extremists from Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked two villages in Maguindanao and their homemade bombs killed five MILF fighters.

The MILF responded and clashes lasted six days, with the military firing howitzer cannons in support, Besana said.

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