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Philippine officials, Muslim rebels meet to prevent clashes that could endanger talks

Philippine officials, Muslim rebels meet to prevent clashes that could endanger talks

Philippine government representatives met with Muslim rebels Sunday in an effort to halt recent fighting between army troops and guerrillas in the country's south, officials said.
Ground and air attacks on rebel positions raged for two days in Midsayap town in Cotabato province before a government-rebel committee intervened and eased the fighting on Saturday, presidential peace talks adviser Jesus Dureza said.
At least three guerrillas of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and a pro-government militiaman have died in the clashes, according to Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, a spokesman for the army's 6th Infantry Division.
Government officials and MILF leaders met Sunday to discuss ways of disengaging the combatants and preventing further clashes, Dureza said.
The latest round of fighting, which comes despite a 2003 cease-fire, was touched off by a land feud between MILF members and Christian settlers in three Midsayap villages, rebel negotiator Mohagher Iqbal said.
Army commanders sided with the Christian settlers, triggering the fighting, he said. Ando has denied Iqbal's allegation, saying troops intervened to settle the conflict but were attacked by the guerrillas, prompting them to retaliate.
"I don't think the clashes would derail the peace talks but we have to patch up the conflict immediately because it could escalate and spread to other areas," Iqbal told The Associated Press by telephone on Sunday.
"We have protested the military's actions," he said.
Presidential peace talks adviser Jesus Dureza said the clashes eased after government officials and guerrilla leaders intervened, allowing local officials to deal with villagers displaced by the fighting.
The MILF is fighting for self-rule in the southern region of Mindanao.
A joint government-rebel committee safeguarding the truce has halted occasional clashes in the past to prevent them from escalating and endangering Malaysia-brokered peace talks that have been stalled due to disagreements over rebel territorial demands.
Despite the disagreements, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo expressed hope last week that a peace agreement with the MILF could be signed by June.
The Philippine and U.S. governments hope that an agreement with the MILF could transform its rural strongholds into hubs of economic growth instead of remaining as conflict areas that could be used to harbor al-Qaida-linked militants.


Updated : 2021-05-09 21:08 GMT+08:00