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Military and MILF rebels clash

Military and MILF rebels clash

Fighting erupted in the southern Philippines yesterday between security forces and Muslim separatists engaged in a peace process with the government, rebels and military officials said.
Mohaqher Iqbal, chief peace negotiator of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, told Reuters soldiers were shelling rebel positions in Midsayap, a farming town in North Cotabato province.
"Fighting is still raging in Midsayap," Iqbal told Reuters by telephone from a hideout on the southern island of Mindanao.
"We're still trying to confirm if our troops suffered some casualties because OV-10 planes were also indiscriminately dropping bombs in several villages in Midsayap."
Iqbal said the conflict was ignited by a land dispute between native Muslims and Christian settlers in Midsayap.
"The fighting must be stopped because it could affect the peace process. We've called up the international peace monitors to defuse the tension before it could further escalate into a full-blown war."
Farmer's produce seized
Lieutenant-Colonel Julieto Ando, a military spokesman in Cotabato, said fighting broke out when soldiers chased a group of armed men raiding rice farms in Midsayap, seizing produce from local farmers.
"We're still trying to confirm casualties from both sides," Ando told reporters, adding they were not after MILF rebels in the area.
Iqbal said the troops were using 105 mm howitzers and aerial bombardment.
"We're definitely filing a protest before the ceasefire panel," he said, asking the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team to help stop the military operations.
A truce between the government and the MILF, the largest of four Muslim rebel groups in the southern Philippines, has been holding since July 2003 despite minor skirmishes.
Peace talks, brokered by Malaysia since March 2001, were stalled in May last year because of differences over the size and wealth of a proposed homeland for about 3 million Muslims in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country.
Last December, the MILF rejected a proposal by the government to resume negotiations because it was not satisfied with offers that would expand the existing five-province autonomous region for Muslims.


Updated : 2021-05-15 06:10 GMT+08:00