The Philippine military reports it has killed dozens of rebels in its latest campaign against Muslim separatists in the southern provinces. But the main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said it remains committed to the peace process.
The Philippines armed forces struck for a third day against camps of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Philippine army spokesman Colonel Daniel Lucero said the offensive has left dozens of Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerillas dead since Saturday. "Reports from our field units in Mindanao say there are already 60 MILF members died in this first salvo of the bombing and artillery attack," Mr. Lucero said.
Colonel Lucero said the offensive is against Moro Islamic Liberation Front "terrorist cells," suspected in recent attacks against civilians. The government says more than 200 people have died in bombings and other attacks this year.
"This military offensive is directed against those perpetrators - those terrorist cells within the MILF, who perpetrated these killings and massacres of innocent civilians last month in Lanao del Norte, in Mindinao, and in Siocon, in Zamboanga del Norte," he said.
In a raid earlier this month, at least 10 civilians and 12 soldiers and police were killed in Siocon. More than 13 civilians also died, after guerillas attempted to overrun an area in Lanao del Norte province.
A rebel spokesman, Eid Kabalu, said the group has not suffered casualties, and warns it will retaliate, if the offensive continues. "If you are attacked, it is our right to defend ourselves. That is always the case, because we maintain a defensive posture," he said.
Mr. Kabalu said the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is committed to the peace process, and calls for the government to honor an earlier cease-fire agreement.
The cease-fire collapsed in February, following a government offensive against rebel camps where it said criminals were hiding. "The peace talks … that is the policy of the MILF to resolve the Mindinao problem through peaceful means, and the use of force is only used as a last resort," he said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been fighting for almost three decades to establish an Islamic state in the southern region of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.