COTABATO, Philippines, Jan. 29 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in the ongoing fighting between government troops and breakaway members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) reached 38 Wednesday, a military official said.
Col. Dickson Hermoso, spokesman for the military's 6th Division, said the government side suffered one fatality, seven injuries while 37 on the side of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) were killed as sporadic clashes went into the fourth day in remote town of Datu Piang in Maguindanao.
Hermoso said the number of fatalities on the enemy side might increase as civilians informed soldiers the rebels suffered severe casualties in their assault.
"We asked members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to sanitize their ranks in areas subject of our operation or else they will be targeted too," Hermoso stressed in reaction to claim of MNLF officials their camps were hit by military's howitzers.
"There were fighting since last night in the village of Ganta but it's contained. It will not escalate. Only one battalion of soldiers were directly involved in the operation. The rest were just blocking force," he added.
Hermoso said they were closely working with the MILF to prevent a mis-encounter on the ground.
The BIFF, a breakaway group of the mainstream MILF, has carried out many deadly attacks in recent years in a bid to derail the peace negotiations between the MILF and the government.
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