The News Minute | January 26, 2015 | 3:25 pm IST
At least 30 people have been killed during clashes between the Philippine police and the Muslim rebels of the Moro Front of Islamic Liberation (MILF) in the south of the country, media reported on Monday.
Both parties had signed a peace agreement in March 2014 after 45 years of conflict that could be affected by the new violence.
The fighting began early on Sunday, near the remote city of Mamasapano on the southern island of Mindanao where the police carried out a search and arrest operation against a Malaysian terrorist accused of several recent bombings in the region.
The police entered one of the areas controlled by the MILF while searching for a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a spin-off of the MILF opposed to the peace deal.
The police target was Zulkifli Hir, a Malaysian explosives expert with a reward of $5 million for his capture and who is believed to be behind the recent attacks in the area.
More than a score of police officers lost their lives during the the 12-hour-long encounter, according to officials quoted by the newspaper The Malaysia Insider which said the death toll could rise as more bodies are discovered.
Despite the historic peace agreement signed between the Philippine government and the MILF last year, several rebel groups continue to be active in the Muslim-dominated southern Philippines.
Representatives of the government and the Islamic group have launched a series of informal talks to try to reduce the tension and prevent an escalation of clashes.
Between 100,000 and 150,000 people, at least 20 percent of them civilians, have died in four decades of Islamic separatist conflict in the Philippines which has also stalled the development of a region rich in natural resources and impoverished the population.