MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks with the Philippine government released nine teachers and four village officials Tuesday a day after taking hostages in an attack on a southern town that killed eight combatants, officials said.
This week's violence came as government troops battled the last few dozen gunmen from another Muslim rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front, which on Sept. 9 took more than 100 civilians hostage and occupied areas of Zamboanga city.
About 40 Moro rebels holding around 20 hostages are still holed up in Zamboanga, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.
It was not known if the two attacks were related but the leaders of the two groups have met at least once and both oppose the peace talks involving the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
In the latest attack Monday, fighters of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters assaulted an outpost of unarmed government militiamen in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province and seized more than a dozen hostages. As army troops closed in, clashes broke out and the rebels used their captives as human shields, said regional military spokesmen Col. Dickson Hermoso said.
Four soldiers and four rebels were killed, he said.
Some hostages later escaped or were freed by the troops, while the remaining nine teachers and four officials were set free at 4:45 a.m. Tuesday, said another military spokesman, Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc. He said that the teachers appeared to be unharmed.
"The rebels suddenly arrived there. Some were not even wearing their uniforms and just changed into their uniforms there," Loreto Cabaya, a member of the North Cotabato provincial board, told GMA News TV network.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters is a faction of the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front, now the dominant Muslim rebel group engaged in peace talks for a new autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.