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Page last updated at 14:24 GMT, Saturday, 6 June 2009 15:24 UK

Philippines captures 'rebel base'

MILF fighter (BBC file pic)
Fighting has raged on Mindanao since talks ended in August 2008

Troops in the Philippines have seized a separatist camp and killed 30 rebels on Mindanao island, the military says.

The army said its soldiers found large caches of weapons and ammunition when they entered the base at the end of days of fighting.

However, the rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are reported to have denied the military's claims.

Hundreds have died and many thousands have been displaced on Mindanao since peace talks foundered in August 2008.

The military spokesman, Lt Gen Jonathan Ponce, said bodies were found inside concrete bunkers near the town of Guindulungan which he described as a "bomb factory".

"Based on our initial report, our troops have accounted for 30 killed rebels on the ground," Lt Gen Ponce told the Reuters news agency. Twenty other fighters were injured, he said.

"We bombed their positions. We fired rockets until early this morning before soldiers entered the rebel encampment, which could accommodate about 200 rebels."

The camp was ringed by four outposts with a big hall in the centre, he said, with foxholes linked to each other by trenches.

However, a rebel spokesman told the Associated Press news agency that the area was not a MILF base, but was in fact a local Muslim village.

Eid Kabalu also denied the government's casualty claims, saying just nine fighters were injured in the battle.

Ongoing conflict

Fighting between the military and the rebels has intensified over the past six weeks, and displaced 50,000 people.

Phlippines map

Rebel Islamic groups in Mindanao have been fighting for a separate homeland in the Philippines for decades.

The government and MILF negotiators outlined a deal last year which would have expanded an autonomous Muslim region on Mindanao.

But parliament blocked the agreement, saying the government had not adequately consulted Christian communities in Mindanao - who form a majority on the island.

After the deal collapsed, groups of disaffected MILF guerrillas rampaged through Christian villages, killing civilians and burning houses and land.

The military responded and the ensuing fighting has displaced hundreds of thousands and put the region on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.

Although the government is keen to restart peace talks, no date has been set.



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