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Philippine army claims nine Muslim rebels slain in attacks

COTABATO, Philippines -- Philippine troops repulsed a series of attacks by a breakaway Muslim insurgent group in the country's south that left nine rebels dead and two soldiers wounded, the army said Friday.

The series of skirmishes occurred around several small military outposts near the rural town of Pikit between Tuesday and Thursday, local military spokesman Captain Antonio Bulao told AFP.

Nine members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters were killed in the fighting, Bulao said, citing intelligence reports.

The rebel faction's spokesman, Abu Misri, confirmed that its forces were involved in the fighting, but denied that it sustained casualties.

Bulao said two soldiers were wounded in the fighting.

The rebel faction split off from the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, after the MILF entered into peace talks with the government to end decades of conflict that have claimed 150,000 lives.

Bulao accused the renegade rebels of extorting from private contractors of a government irrigation project, but Misri denied this.

Misri also said the latest flare-up of fighting was unrelated to the government's peace talks with the MILF.

“This has no relation to the peace talks. We will not sabotage them,” he told AFP.

He said the rebels attacked because soldiers allegedly harassed Muslim farmers in the area, which Bulao denies.

The 12,000-strong MILF has been fighting since the 1970s for a separate Muslim state in the south, but has agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks with the government.

However the BIFF have refused to abide by the ceasefire, and have staged scattered attacks on civilians and the armed forces.

President Benigno Aquino has promised to end the insurgency by the conclusion of his six-year term in 2016.

The peace talks reached a crucial stage last month after the two sides hammered out the details of a power-sharing agreement within a proposed Muslim self-rule area in the south.

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