Davao City (Philippines) : Fighting erupted anew between government troops and Moro rebels in southern Philippines early Monday, with one person wounded and civilians being trapped and believed being taken hostage, local officials said.
According to Emmylou Mendoza, governor of Mindanao's North Cotabato province, the fighting between Philippines army soldiers and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the province's Midsayap town also prompted suspension of classes in several schools there, Xinhua reported.
"We are on full alert," Mendoza said, adding that a civilian was wounded following the incident and that local authorities were now assisting evacuees from three villages affected in the skirmish.
Mendoza said they were still verifying reports about teachers and students being held hostage by the rebels.
A BIFF spokesperson, Abu Misri, told local media that the fighting started when soldiers and BIFF gunmen chanced upon each other near the village of Katimpilan, also in Midsayap Monday morning.
Misri confirmed several students and teachers were trapped due to the fighting but denied they are being held as hostages by his comrades.
"It's our forces that rescued and brought them to a safe area," Misri said.
The BIFF had broken off from the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the main Moro rebel faction fighting the Philippines government, since the late 1970s.
The MILF engaged in peace talks with Manila since 2008 in a bid to resolve the nearly four-decade-old Muslim secessionist rebellion in southern Philippines that has killed over 150,000 people.