Rebels still holding hostages in school — Philippine military

Rebels still holding hostages in school — Philippine military”

Militants who stormed a primary school in a southern Philippines town on Wednesday have fled, leaving behind 31 hostages unharmed, including 12 children, a spokesman for the military said.

"The enemy made a hasty withdrawal, leaving behind 31 hostages, among them 12 youngsters", Brigadier General Restituto Padilla told Reuters.

Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) raided a school in Pigcawayan, North Cotabato on Wednesday morning, possibly trapping civilians, according to reports gathered by The Manila Times.

Witnesses about a kilometre from the school said they could hear gunfire.

Both Pigcawayan and Marawi are on the large southern island of Mindanao. The attackers apparently were withdrawing, Padilla said.

Earlier, a spokesman for the militant group said they had taken civilians to a safe place after a gunfight erupted with troops and did not intend to hold them.

Padilla said it was possible the attack was meant to disrupt an ongoing military offensive against a separate group of IS-aligned militants who laid siege May 23 in Marawi in Lanao del Sur province, also in the country's south.

There was no word of casualties in the incident at Pigcawayan town, which is about 190 km (120 miles) south of Marawi City, where fighting between government troops and pro-Islamic State militants has entered its fifth week.

Members of the BIFF were engaged in a gunbattle with the military, Chief Inspector Realan Mamon, the police chief at Pigcawayan, said in a radio interview.

Last month, about 500 militants seized Marawi, a mosque-dotted center of the Islamic faith in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation. The attack has sparked fears that the Islamic State group, while losing territory in Syria and Iraq, may be gaining a foothold in Southeast Asia by supporting local militants with money, training and weapons.

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