KIDAPAWAN, Philippines — Muslim militants fled after freeing dozens of hostages from a school in a North Cotabato village on Wednesday and were being pursued by army troops, as a daylong crisis eased in the volatile region, officials said.
Gunmen from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters prepared to attack troop and militiamen outposts but were repelled by government forces early Wednesday, prompting them to seize villagers as human shields in Malagakit village in North Cotabato province, military officials said.
At least four rebels were killed and two government militiamen were wounded in the fighting, which caused nearly 1,000 villagers in Malagakit and two nearby villages to flee to safety, the officials said.
The retreating gunmen, estimated by the military and police to number from 200 to 300, later occupied a Malagakit grade school building, where they sporadically traded shots with troops up to nightfall, said local army spokesman Capt. Arvin Encinas.
During a lull in the gunbattle, 31 people, including a dozen children, were either allowed to dash to freedom or escaped from the school. Other captives in the school and more 20 other residents who were trapped in their houses later were taken to safety by troops, officials said.
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