A group of Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks with the Philippine Government stormed a southern town on Monday and seized several hostages while engaging troops in clashes that killed eight combatants, military officials said.
The violence comes as government troops battle the last few dozen gunmen from another Muslim rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, which on September 9 took more than 100 civilians hostage and occupied five coastal communities in another southern city, Zamboanga.
About 40 Moro rebels holding around 20 hostages were still holed up in two areas in Zamboanga, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.
It was not known if the two attacks were related, but the leaders of the two groups have met at least once and both oppose the peace talks involving the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In the latest attack, an undetermined number of fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters assaulted an outpost of unarmed government militiamen in a town in North Cotabato province, then took 15 villagers hostage, regional military spokesmen Col. Dickson Hermoso said.
Army troops later caught up with the rebels, who engaged the soldiers in sporadic firefights while using their captives as human shields. Four soldiers and four rebels were killed, he said.
All 15 hostages later escaped or were freed by the troops, he said, but added a group of about 10 teachers are missing, either trapped in a school by gunfire between the troops and rebels, or taken hostage by the rebels.
“The rebels suddenly arrived there. Some were not even wearing their uniforms and just changed into their uniforms there,” Loreto Cabaya, a member of the North Cotabato provincial board, told GMA News TV network.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is a faction of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, now the dominant Muslim rebel group in the south which is engaged in peace talks with the government for a new autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.