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COTABATO, Philippines (AFP) – Five Philippine soldiers and three rogue Muslim rebels have been killed in clashes ahead of the resumption of peace talks aimed at ending a decades-old rebellion, the military said on Sunday.
The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a splinter guerrilla group, ambushed an army truck and attacked an army camp on Saturday, said regional military spokesman Major-General Romeo Gapuz.
The fighting occurred two days before the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest Muslim guerrilla force, were to resume talks in neighbouring Malaysia on Monday.
"The BIFF is hell-bent on derailing the (Philippines-MILF) peace talks by launching simultaneous attacks against civilian and military installations," Gapuz said in a written statement.
The BIFF set off a roadside bomb as a military truck drove past in the mainly rural Datu Piang municipality, killing three soldiers, officials said.
A Philippine Army unit based nearby killed three of the rebels in a subsequent firefight, they added.
BIFF forces simultaneously attacked an army detachment in another section of the town, killing two other soldiers, a military report said.
BIFF spokesman Abu Misry confirmed that his group was behind Saturday's attacks.
"We will continue our guerilla offensives against the military until they leave Maguindanao," Misry told Catholic-run local radio station DXMS in a telephone interview, referring to a Mindanao province where his group operates.
The group is led by Ameril Umbrakato, a former senior MILF official who was expelled in 2011.
His renegade group has been blamed for a series of raids across Mindanao in 2008 that left nearly 400 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.
The MILF, which is observing a ceasefire, is to resume negotiations in Malaysia on Monday, the Philippine government said.
The talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million.
The two sides signed a preliminary agreement in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016.
The Malaysia talks seek to resolve remaining differences on key issues like wealth and power-sharing within the proposed autonomous region, as well as disarming and demobilising the MILF.
The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippines since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.