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COTABATO CITY – At least 3 army soldiers were injured in fierce clashes that erupted Tuesday between security forces and radical jihadists in the province of Maguindanao in the restive Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines, officials said.

The fighting was so fierce in Shariff Saydona Mustapha town that the 6th Infantry Division radioed the air force for a pair of MG-520 attack helicopters to support ground troops fighting the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters.

It described the clashes as “heavy” and it started at dawn and continued until day time in the village of Pamalian where gunmen attacked a group of soldiers and sparking a gun battle.

The fighting erupted a day after President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to grant wider autonomy to Muslims in the troubled region during a national address on the state of the nation.

The army tagged an extremist rebel leader, Karalian, as behind the attack on the soldiers. And the Major General Edmundo Pangilinan, the regional army commander, has called on Karalian to “voluntarily surrender to the government to avoid further bloodshed.”

“It would be best that they surrender so that they can avoid more of the followers from getting killed and would also prevent more displacement from taking place,” Pangilinan said.

There were no reports of enemy casualties, but many of the BIFF members were former or still members of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front which signed an interim peace deal with Manila in 2014.

Both the BIFF and MILF were accused in the brutal killings of 44 police commandos in Maguindanao’s Mamasapano town during a clandestine operation called Oplan Exodus that targeted a Malaysian bomber, Zulkifli Abdhir, who was coddled by the two groups in the remote Tukanalipao village. (Mindanao Examiner)

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