COTABATO, Philippines, May 16 (Xinhua) -- Separatist rebels stormed a village in the southern Philippines on Friday and took dozens of civilians as they fled, an Army official said Saturday.
Fifty members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest separatist group, also ransacked local grocery stores Friday night in the village of Basak in Lebak township, Sultan Kudarat province, said local military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce.
"As they fled, they took with them 20 civilians as human shields. The rebels burned the people's houses there and carted farm animals," Ponce said.
The Army official mentioned rebel commanders Jingle Calutag and Bobby Ambag of the MILF's 104th Command as those who led the attack.
"This treacherous act is a clear violation of human rights. The MILF leadership can no longer control their field commanders," Ponce said.
"As of last night, we have no information if the civilians they took are already released," he added.
Ponce said the military commander in the region, Major General Alfredo Caiton, had ordered a rescue and manhunt operation.
Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said they will make an investigation on the military's report.
"We have not received such information. We will verify it," Kabalu said.
Peace talks between the government and the 11,800-member MILF collapsed in August last year after the two sides failed to sign an agreement on ancestral domain, prompting some rebel commanders to launch deadly attacks on Christian communities in Mindanao.
Ancestral domain refers to the MILF's demand for territory that will constitute a Muslim homeland. It is the last remaining hurdle for a final political settlement that is expected to end the four decades of Muslim insurgency that has claimed more than 120,000 lives. Once signed, both sides are expected to work towards a final peace deal that would include plans for the future of the MILF rebels.
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