Mindanao: fighting flares with Moro rebels

A Philippine National Police Special Action Force (SAF) operation on Jan. 25 turned into a "dusk to dawn" gun-battle with Moro rebels in restive Mindanao Island. At least 30 police troops were killed in the clash at the village of Tukanalipao, Mamasapano municipality, Maguindanao province. Mohagher Iqbal, chief negotiator for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) later said the clash was triggered by lack of coordination on the SAF operation. SAF forces were hunting Malaysian national Zulkifli Bin Hir AKA "Marwan"—named by the US FBI as a bomb-maker for the Abu Sayyaf extremist faction.  The SAF incursion was resisted by local militia of the MILF and breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF). 

The MILF accepted an autonomy offer in March 2014 from the government, ending 45 years of conflict that left 120,000 killed and 2 million displaced. Under the deal, brokered by Malaysia, the rebels were to formally disband after establishment a new autonomous government in Mindanao. The battle at Tukanalipao was the bloodiest incident since the ceasefire. (GMA Network, InterAskyonReuters, Jan. 25)

The military's elite Task Force ZamBaSulTa three days earlier announced the capture of two Abu Sayyaf camps on Basilan Island following clashes that led to the death of two militants. The main body of the militants escaped during the fighting at Barangay Pamatsaken, Sumisip municipality. (MindaNews, Jan. 22)