Top Filipino militant wounded in deadly January clash: Official

Top Filipino militant wounded in deadly January clash: Official

MANILA - A militant targeted in a deadly clash in the Philippines last month that has jeopardised a milestone peace process between the government and Muslim rebels was wounded in the fighting, a government official said on Friday.

Efforts to end the decades-old insurgency by rebels from the minority Muslim community in the largely Catholic country have stalled since the Jan. 25 firefight on the southern island of Mindanao, in which 44 policemen and 18 rebels were killed.

Legislators drawing up a law to give Muslims in the area autonomy, the next step of the peace process, have suspended their work, demanding an investigation into the bloodshed.

A Philippine militant called Abdul Basit Usman, a foreign-trained bomb expert with links to al Qaeda-allied groups, was one of the targets of the Jan. 25 raid, in which another militant, the Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir, is believed to have been killed.

Government forces are hunting for Usman who melted away after the clash. Esmael Mangudadatu, governor of the southern province of Maguindanao, said he had been wounded.

"Basit Usman was shot in the shoulder and he can't move the right side of his body because of a mild stroke," Mangudadatu said in a television interview, citing information he said he got from several sources.

"He has aides who were also badly hit from the encounter." It was not clear if Usman suffered the stroke before or after the clash.

The rebels involved in the peace talks, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) said Usman and the other wanted militant were not in their camp.

They said they were investigating and have offered to help government forces find Usman.

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