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Rebel group claims engagement with Filipino soldiers who were found beheaded
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14:53, July 11, 2007

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The Philippine secessionist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Wednesday claimed responsibility for engaging government troops Tuesday in a village in Basilan, southern Philippines, in which at least eight government troops were killed.

MILF fighters were attacked first by marine soldiers in the outskirts of Tipo-tipo town in Basilan because of "non- coordination of their movement" in the area, MILF chief negotiator with government in peace talks, Mohaguer Iqbal, said in a cellphone interview with local media.

A military spokesman said earlier the Abu Sayyaf rebels attacked a marine brigade when the latter were looking for an abducted Italian priest in Basian, resulting in the deaths of at least eight government soldiers.

But the MILF said no Abu Sayyaf rebels were involved in the fighting. "It's pure MILF. The soldiers entered into an area of the MILF without coordination so the fighting ensued," said Iqbal, adding that 11 MILF rebels were killed and seven others were wounded in the nine-hour fight.

Iqbal said the Marines suffered 11 dead, including the four soldiers whose headless bodies were found early Wednesday by villagers sent by local government to the fighting site.

The MILF spokesman said MILF is conducting an investigation why the four soldiers were beheaded. He said the MILF is also filing a protest with the government for "grave violation" of truce agreement with MILF by the government troops.

Philippine Marine spokesman Lt. Col. Ariel Caculian said earlier bodies of the four Marines, who went missing with six other soldiers in the fighting on Tuesday, were found beheaded near the encounter site in a village of Tipo-tipo town early Wednesday morning.

Caculitan said the soldiers were tasked to look for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi when they stumbled upon a group of Abu Sayyaf men Tuesday morning on their way back to their base after the search operation yielded nothing.

Senior Superintendent Alex Macapantar, Basilan provincial police chief, denied that the four bodies were decapitated, saying the heads of the soldiers were "destroyed", according to a report by local television network GMA News.

He also said the provincial police still has to investigate if the Abu Sayyaf had initiated the attack.

The troops were looking for Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi, who was kidnapped one month ago by still unidentified gunmen near Zamboanga. The military said Abu Sayyaf or rogue elements of Moro Islamic Liberation Front could be the kidnappers.

The search has intensified after Italy expressed unhappiness over the failure to find him.

Source: Xinhua

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