Officials said the fighting also left six marines wounded in the town of Kalingalan Kaluang. Five soldiers and three rebels were killed in the fighting that erupted at around 5 a.m. in the village of Kambing.
Security forces were searching for a wanted MNLF leader Khabier Malik when rebels attacked them, sparking a fierce firefight.
“We have sent the rangers to reinforce the marines in the area and to hunt down those responsible in the killings,” Brig. Gen. Ruperto Pabustan, commander of the Army’s elite Special Forces in Sulu province, told the Mindanao Examiner.
Malik is facing criminal charges after his group held for 3 days a military peace mission in February and demanded that Manila free their jailed leader Nur Misuari.
Misuari signed a peace deal with Manila in September 1996 ending decades of bloody war. After the peace agreement was signed, Misuari, became the governor of the Muslim autonomous region. But despite the accord, there was a widespread disillusionment with the weak autonomy they were granted.
Under the peace agreement, Manila would provide a mini-Marshal Plan to spur economic development in Muslim areas in the south and livelihood and housing assistance to tens of thousands of former rebels to uplift their poor living standards.
Fierce fighting between troops and Malik’s group in April also left at least 21 soldiers and rebels dead and more than 100 wounded.
Malik, who has declared a holy war against the military, previously warned of more attacks after accusing the government of violating the peace agreement, saying, troops, pursuing Abu Sayyaf militants, had killed MNLF members and innocent civilians in several armed encounters in the province.
But the military also accused the MNLF of coddling the Abu Sayyaf.
Many former guerrillas were disgruntled with the peace deal, saying, the Arroyo government failed to comply with some of its provisions and uplift their standards of living. They accused Manila of failing to develop the war-torn areas in the south.
And in November 2001, on the eve of the elections in the Muslim autonomous region, Misuari accused the government of reneging on the peace agreement, and launched a new rebellion in Jolo island and Zamboanga City, where more than 100 people were killed.
Misuari then escaped by boat to Malaysia, but had been arrested and deported to the Philippines. He is now under house arrest in Manila. (Mindanao Examiner)