Philippine troops killed 17 Muslim rebels in two days of fighting with guerrilla forces opposed to a peace deal with the government, a military spokesman said Tuesday.
Security forces clashed with members of a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which agreed on Saturday to decommission its forces in a key agreement with the government signed in Kuala Lumpur.
The military launched the offensive in Maguindanao province, 960 kilometres south of Manila, on Monday to preempt any retaliation to the deal, Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
"We consider them as peace spoilers and they might do actions that are detrimental to our peace process," he said. "There are 17 enemies killed already, and none on the part of the armed forces of the Philippines."
Under the agreement, MILF combatants are to turn over their firearms to a third party, nominated jointly by the rebels and the government.
In return, a regional police force would be established in a new Muslim autonomous area to be created in 2016. At the same time, the military would reduce its presence and help disband private armies in the area.
The agreement was the last of four annexes agreed by the MILF and the Philippine government since the two parties signed a preliminary peace plan in October 2012.
The two sides previously signed agreements on transition modalities, wealth sharing and power sharing.
They have said they hope to sign a comprehensive peace agreement by March, which would pave the way for the creation of the new Muslim autonomous entity called Bangsamoro, under a law to be approved by Congress.
The new entity, whose name means Muslim nation, will have substantive control over natural resources and wealth and revenues generated in the southern region of Mindanao. The peace talks have been brokered by Malaysia since 1997.