Military soldiers salute as they raise the flag after over-runing a BIFF camp in Ganta, Maguindanao on February 1. Photo by Mark Navales, Agence France-Presse
AWANG -- Military officials on Sunday vowed to hunt down remaining splinter groups of hardline Muslim rebels after capturing their main camps in a week-long offensive.
The threat posed by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has diminished due to the offensive that began last Monday in remote parts of the troubled southern island of Mindanao, national military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
"They have split into smaller groups and further operations must be done to follow up," he told reporters.
These operations will be "smaller in scale," he said, adding that they would also be held in coordination with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The operation against the BIFF was launched two days after the government and the MILF successfully concluded peace talks aimed at ending decades of fighting that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.
The BIFF broke away from the MILF due to their opposition to the talks and has previously launched attacks to derail the peace process.
At a military camp in the town of Awang, the armed forces displayed items they recovered from the BIFF camps including bomb-making materials and pictures showing young boys being trained as soldiers for the militant group.
This supported military accusations that the BIFF were using child soldiers and that three such youths were among the 53 insurgent fighters killed in the violence.
One soldier was also slain in the fighting which included military artillery strikes of BIFF camps.
A BIFF spokesman had previously denied that the group was using children and said the military were manufacturing the evidence.
Among the other items captured in the camp were camouflage uniforms with MILF labels.
However MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghazali Jaafar denied there was still a link between the two groups.
"Those are not MILF uniforms. Anybody can make those uniforms," he told AFP.
Military spokesman Zagala also said there were no signs that the MILF was cooperating with the BIFF.
President Benigno Aquino III on Wednesday had previously vowed to crush "spoiler" rebels who were opposed to the peace deal.
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