Philippine troops started withdrawing from southern villages Wednesday after isolated clashes with Muslim rebels left 17 guerrillas and a soldier dead despite a 2003 cease-fire, officials said.
Maj. Gen. Nehemias Pajarito, the commander of the army's 6th Infantry Division, ordered troops to pull out from Midsayap town to avoid clashing with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a government representative, Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea, said.
The rebels and the military, which have been respecting a 2003 truce despite occasional clashes, have accused each other of initiating the fighting on Monday and Tuesday in Midsayap, 890 kilometers south of Manila, where the two sides are facing each other.
The rebels and the government met with Malaysian-led truce monitors after the clashes subsided.