Three civilians were killed in a roadside bomb explosion in a remote Philippine region where the army and Muslim rebels have engaged in sporadic fighting for days, police said.

Muslim insurgents booby-trapped a highway to target military convoys, but it detonated when a van with six people aboard drove through late Tuesday, according to a report from the provincial police office that was sent to AFP.


Three of the van’s passengers were killed while three others were wounded, according to police in nearby Datu Saudi Ampatuan town. They said they were also verifying reports one of the fatalities was a young boy.

The military has been battling a Muslim rebel faction near farming villages in the area since last week, regional military spokesman Major Filemon Tan told AFP.

He said about 300 soldiers had been providing protection for a flood control project in the area after the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) set fire to the private contractor’s dredging equipment last week.

Two air force helicopters also fired rockets as well as machine gun rounds at BIFF positions on Tuesday, he said, but there were no confirmed casualties.

The clashes followed a major setback in efforts to end decades of fighting in the region, when parliament earlier this month failed to pass a law granting the country’s Muslim minority wider autonomy.

The BIFF is not party to the peace deal, which the government signed in 2014 with the larger Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Four decades of fighting in the south have left 100,000 people killed according to official estimates. The setback in parliament derailed the peace timetable, including the disarmament of an estimated 10,000 MILF fighters.

After the collapse in 2008 of the last attempt to seal a peace deal with the MILF, hardline rebels raided Christian farming villages, triggering fighting that left more than 400 people dead and 600,000 displaced.

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