Philippine government troops Thursday overran a Muslim rebel camp in the country's troubled south as Air Force planes renewed airstrikes against guerrilla positions, military officials said.
Army Major General Nehemias Pajarito said soldiers captured the Moro Islamic Liberation Front's (MILF) Camp Bilal in Nunungan town in the province Lanao del Norte, 810 kilometres south of Manila, after more than a week of intense fighting, reported dpa.
Pajarito said troops, however, failed to arrest MILF leader Abdullah Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, who led deadly attacks on five towns in Lanao del Norte earlier this month.
Air force planes on Thursday also bombed rebel positions in Guindulungan town in nearby Maguindanao province to flush out another MILF commander, Ameril Umbra Kato, who led attacks on 15 villages in nearby North Cotabato province.
Colonel Marlou Salazar said ground troops were conducting simultaneous combat operations.
Defence Secretary Gilberto Teodoro stressed that the military would not stop the operations against the two MILF commanders despite the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan next week.
"A total ceasefire is unacceptable," he said. "There will be tactical adjustment. It will depend on the commander operating in the area to take that into account."
"What they [the two MILF commanders] have done was already un-Islamic, how do we expect them to conform to Islamic norms when they have slaughtered people which is contrary to the principles of Islam," he added.
Amid the unrelenting military offensives, concerns were raised over the mounting toll on civilians in the affected provinces, where more than 360,000 people have been displaced by the fighting.
The military said about 60 civilians have been killed in the rebel attacks and the fighting. The hostilities have also left 110 rebels and 17 soldiers dead, it added.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said it was scaling up food assistance to people displaced by the conflict in the southern region of Mindanao.
"WFP is responding to a request from the government to provide food assistance to meet urgent needs among the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the sudden upsurge in violence in Mindanao," said Stephen Anderson, WFP Philippines country director.
The hostilities started after the Supreme Court on August 4 stopped the signing of a controversial territorial deal between the government and the MILF that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous region in Mindanao.
The Philippine government eventually scrapped the deal amid strong opposition by Catholic politicians. But the MILF insisted that the government should honour the agreement, which was negotiated for more than four years.