Philippines MILF violence
Policemen load into a truck the body of their comrade during a retrieval operation on January 26, 2015 in Mamasapano, Maguindanao Province, Philippines.Getty Images

At least 43 policemen have been killed in deadly clashes with Muslim rebels after troops launched a covert mission to find a terror suspect.

The mass-killing occurred after police entered the town of Mamasapano, resulting in government forces and rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) engaging in an 11-hour battle.

It is believed the commandos' target was Zulkifli bin Hir, a Malaysian terror suspect known by the pseudo name Marwan, for whose arrest Philippines have offered a $5m (£3,3m) reward.

MILF is the largest Muslim group in the Philippines, and demands the independence of the Bangsamoro Land in the southern region of the country.

In January 2014 the liberation front and the Philippine government signed a historic peace agreement mediated by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The two warring sides agreed that Bangsamoro could become an independent Muslim land by 2016, if rebels stop carrying out attacks in the country.

"We are hoping that with the singular goal to achieve peace and development in the region, we will be able to breach all these differences and unite everybody towards the common cause," said Miriam Ferrer, the chief government negotiator, at the time the deal was brokered.

Is is believed that violence linked to the MILF's insurgence has killed some 120 people since 1976, when the group was formed form the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).