World Bulletin / News Desk
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., Western Mindanao Command spokesman, said in a statement that fresh clashes broke out in Butig in Lanao del Sur province in the morning after pursuing soldiers encountered some 60 gunmen of the “Maute Group”.
"An armed confrontation ensued, resulting in the death of a soldier and wounding of another," Tan said.
Government forces are continuing an offensive launched against the group that resulted in troops pushing the militants out of the town center Thursday after Butig was occupied for a second time this year.
According to official figures, 63 members of the Maute Group have been killed and 17 wounded in fighting that has left two government troops dead and 39 wounded.
Tan also revealed that authorities are preparing charges against the mother of the group’s leaders -- Abdul and Omar, also known as the Maute brothers -- after explosives and guns were seized from her house during a raid early Tuesday morning.
Lanao del Sur’s police director had said that criminal charges were also being prepared against other relatives who own four nearby houses where weapons were also reportedly recovered.
According to Senior Superintendent Agustin Tello, the suspects fled the area before Maute Group fighters overran Butig on Nov. 25.
Security forces retook the town center Thursday, but the Department of Social Welfare and Development estimates that around 2,450 families -- or 12,500 individuals -- were forced to flee the violence in Butig.
The 103rd Infantry Brigade’s commander Col. Roseller Murillo, however, has warned residents against returning to their houses due to unexploded ordnance still being found in the area, according to the MindaNews website.
Over the weekend, the country’s one-time largest Moro rebel outfit warned that the Maute Group’s presence has complicated the situation in Mindanao amid a delay in establishing an autonomous Muslim region.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said in an editorial posted on its official website that the Maute group’s “engagements with government [are] not covered by terms of reference” -- as is the case with Moro and communist groups involved in peace talks with the government.
President Rodrigo Duterte has sent emissaries to Butig to meet with Maute leaders, news broadcaster ABS-CBN reported, citing sources “privy to the negotiation efforts” as saying that the armed group responded by expressing willingness to talk.
In late November, Duterte -- the first Philippine president to hail from Mindanao -- invited influential relatives and associates of the Maute family, including two former mayors, to southern Davao City in a bid to tackle the conflict.
Last week, Duterte officially acknowledged that the group is connected to ISIL.
The presence of armed groups in the southern Philippines that have pledged allegiance to ISIL has prompted fears during a stall of a peace process between the government and the MILF that it could make inroads in a region torn by decades of armed conflict.