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Philippine troops battle breakaway Muslim rebels

June 25, 2013

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Philippine troops have clashed with hardline Muslim guerrillas behind the recent killings of two villagers and an attack on an army detachment, shattering months of relative calm in the country’s restive southern heartland, military officials said Tuesday.

An artillery bombardment forced more than 200 fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement to withdraw from their rural encampment Monday on the border of Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao provinces, said army Col. Edmund Pangilinan, adding that troops were pursuing the insurgents. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement, which has hundreds of armed fighters, broke away last year from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, which has been engaged in peace talks with the government for a possible Muslim autonomy deal.

The breakaway rebels reject the talks and have vowed to continue fighting for a separate Muslim homeland in the south.

The Malaysian-brokered peace talks involving the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front have eased years of deadly battles that devastated the impoverished region.

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