20,000 sent fleeing after deadly fighting in the Philippines

 
20,000 sent fleeing after deadly fighting in the Philippines
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At least six people have been killed and more than 20,000 displaced during a week of fighting between Islamic militants and security forces in the southern Philippines, authorities said Friday.

Three soldiers and three militants were confirmed killed in the clashes, which involved followers of a slain Indonesian leader of a Southeast Asian militant group, the military said.

"There was attack and counter-attack, sniping and counter-sniping, and artillery fire," military spokesman Colonel Noel Detoyato told AFP, describing the fighting that began on Saturday with an attack on a military post.

The military said the group's base, a concrete building on the outskirts of a remote town in a mountainous region of violence-racked Mindanao island, had been overrun on Thursday night following helicopter gunship attacks.

However a local reporter on the scene said clashes continued throughout Friday.

Up to 61 militants were believed to have been killed, although only three bodies had been recovered, according to the military chief with responsibility for the area, Colonel Roseller Murillo.

Murillo and other military officials said they had no firm evidence to confirm the other 58 reported deaths, and would not say how they came up with the number other than that they relied on intelligence reports.

The fighting took place in and around Butig, a small Muslim-populated town surrounded by heavily forested mountains. One two-storey house was in ruins and many others were riddled with bullets, according to the local reporter.

More than 20,000 people had fled their homes, taking refuge in a mosque, government evacuation centres and with relatives, according to civil defence officials.

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