Philippine troops clash with Muslim militants in a gunbattle that has left at least eight dead

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Philippine troops clashed with Muslim militants in a gunbattle that left at least seven soldiers and two rebels dead in a fog-shrouded hinterland in the south, military officials said Monday. Military chief Gen Romeo Brawner Jr said four other soldiers were wounded in the army offensive Sunday against fighters of the Dawlah Islamiyah, a small armed group aligned with the Islamic State group, near Munai town in Lanao del Norte province.

Troops were hunting a still-unknown number of militants, who withdrew from the scene of the battle, military officials said. Brawner vowed to get justice for the slain and wounded soldiers. “I assure their families and every Filipino that justice will be meted and all efforts will be exhausted in pursuit of the enemy,” Brawner said in a statement where he expressed condolences to the families of the soldiers.

“Our troops are motivated to finish the job and accomplish our mission of defeating local terrorist groups once and for all,” he said. The military has killed 18 fighters of the Dawlah Islamiyah, reportedly including its leader, in a series of military offensives after the group was blamed for a Dec 3 bombing that left four people dead and 50 others wounded while attending a Catholic Mass at the Marawi State University, also in the south.

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The Dawlah Islamiyah is among a few armed groups still waging a separatist uprising in the southern Philippines, homeland of minority Muslims in the largely Catholic nation. The largest armed separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, signed a 2014 peace pact with the government that eased decades of sporadic fighting. The military is separately fighting a decades-old communist insurgency, which has been weakened by battle setbacks, infighting and surrenders.