MANILA: A monthlong Philippine offensive against hardline Muslim rebels ended on Monday after 139 insurgents were killed, 12 others were captured and bomb-making strongholds were seized by troops, the military chief said.

Ten soldiers were killed and 30 others were wounded in the ground and air strikes in the marshy boundary of Maguindanao and North Cotabato provinces in the southern Philippines.

The clashes displaced 120,000 villagers at the height of fighting, and about 30,000 have returned home as the clashes eased, Gen Gregorio Pio Catapang told a news conference.

In a final gunbattle on Sunday, four soldiers and 16 insurgents were killed, including a rebel commander, the military said. Government forces launched the assaults Feb 25 against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement after its fighters attacked villages and were implicated in the killings in January of 44 police anti-terror commandos on the outskirts of Maguindanao’s Mama­sapano town.

“After the relentless operations against the (rebels), we have achieved our objectives, including the neutralisation of more than 50 per cent of their ranks, the capture of their bomb factories and the seizure of their enclaves or safe havens,” Catapang said. The military’s account could not be independently verified.

Catapang cited intelligence and accounts from troops and villagers for the rebel death toll. Catapang said a smaller number of troops would continue to hunt the rest of the rebels, specifically Abdul Basit Usman, alleged to be a bomb maker and trainer with links to the Indonesian-based Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist network and a suspect in several deadly bomb attacks in the south.

Washington has offered a $1 million award for Usman’s capture and prosecution.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2015

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