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Attack on Philippine church injures 5 Military officials vow to hunt hardline rebels

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines, Feb 2, (AFP): Five people were injured Sunday when motorcycle- riding men hurled a grenade into a church in the troubled southern Philippines in a city known for Muslim rebel activity, officials said. One of two men on the motorcycle threw the grenade into the Roman Catholic church in a suburb of the city of Zamboanga just as a group of senior citizens were meeting there, police and district officials said. Four senior citizens and one passer-by were injured, said district chief Jodifer Arquiza. “It (the motive) is unlikely to be personal. What can they get from these senior citizens? Perhaps this is a message,” he told reporters.

The local police chief, Chief Inspector Felixberto Martinez, said they were pursuing all possible leads but could not give a motive for the attack. The bombing came days after troops elsewhere in Mindanao island launched a major operation against a breakaway Muslim rebel group opposed to peace talks with the main Muslim rebel organisation, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Zamboanga City was also the scene of a bloody siege in September by another Muslim armed group which feared that the peace talks with the MILF would sideline them. More than 240 people were killed in the three weeks of fighting in Zamboanga, a city with a mixed Christian and Muslim population. Despite the threats of violence, government and MILF negotiators on Jan 25 announced that they had successfully completed talks aimed at ending a decades-long Muslim insurgency that claimed tens of thousands of lives. President Benigno Aquino recently said the government would crush “spoiler” rebels that might try to derail the peace process with the MILF.

Philippine military officials on Sunday vowed to hunt down remaining splinter groups of hardline Muslim rebels after capturing their main camps in a week-long offensive. The threat posed by members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) has diminished due to the offensive that began Monday in remote parts of the troubled southern island of Mindanao, said national military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala. “They have split into smaller groups and further operations must be done to follow up,” he told reporters. These operations will be “smaller in scale,” he said, adding that they would also be held in coordination with the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The operation against the BIFF was launched two days after the government and the MILF successfully concluded peace talks aimed at ending decades of fighting that has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

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