2 soldiers wounded in clash with Moro rebels

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PAGADIAN CITY: Two government soldiers were wounded in a clash with Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front in southern Philippines, the military said on Friday.

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It said a series of fighting in North Cotabato’s Pikit town erupted after a band of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters attacked security forces guarding government projects there.

The military insisted that at least 9 rebels were killed in the fighting which began earlier this week, but security officials were only sighting unverified intelligence reports.

There was no immediate statement from the rebel group, which broke away with the MILF now currently negotiating with Manila for a separate Muslim autonomy in Mindanao, a mineral-rich region, but also dangerous due to the presence of other rebels and terror groups linked to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.

The MILF, now the country’s largest Muslim rebel group did not give any statement in connection to the latest skirmishes, but it previously denounced the BIFF for the continuing violence in the region. The BIFF wanted independence in Mindanao and rejected a limited autonomy for Muslims.

A peace accord is expected to be signed this year by Philippine government peace negotiators with the MILF following marathon talks in Malaysia, which is brokering the peace process.

The MILF said 2014 is a crucial year for the peace talks, stressing the need to forge the peace deal in the first quarter of the year so that the basic law can be immediately ratified by Muslims to pave the way for the establishment of the new Bangsamoro region which shall replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao composed of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao and Maguindanao provinces, including the cities of Lamitan and Marawi. AL JACINTO

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