Philippine army teams up with Muslim rebels

This article is more than 12 months old

DATU SALIBO The Philippine military said it has teamed up with old foes behind a long-running Muslim insurgency as it looks to eject a breakaway gang of radical militants pledging loyalty to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

As artillery shells and rockets pounded targets nearby, soldiers were seen mingling with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters who have joined an assault on gunmen in the southern island of Mindanao.

The joint operation is the latest tactic by the Philippine government to stamp out pro-ISIS fighters, after months of battling a separate faction of militants who have besieged the city of Marawi, about 100km to the north.

Major-General Arnel dela Vega said militant groups had taken the opportunity "to build up their forces" while government troops were engaged in the Marawi conflict.

The alliance with MILF included "providing them with indirect fire support and even air support and other expertise," he told AFP, adding that the awkwardness of fighting alongside former long-time foes had evaporated.

A rebellion by the 10,000-strong MILF has claimed more than 100,000 lives, by government estimates.

The group signed a peace treaty in 2014 but will not disarm before the government passes a proposed law granting autonomy to the Muslim regions of the mainly Catholic nation.

But small factions continue to fight, as frustration builds over the Bill, which has stalled in Congress.

The military is feeding intelligence to the MILF in the fight against about 60 militants led by Esmael Abdulmalik alias Abu Turaifi, a former MILF guerrilla leader. - AFP