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Philippines attacks Muslim rebels in south PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 11 August 2008

MANILA, Sun Aug 10, (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - The Philippine military shelled Muslim rebels holed up in Catholic farmlands in the south on Sunday, raising tensions on the eve of elections in the region.

The government had given around 800 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas a 24-hour deadline on Thursday to leave the villages in North Cotabato province but most had stayed.

Soldiers and armoured vehicles moved in on Sunday after they said rebels had opened fire.

"We are only taking actions against the breakaway MILF group that defied the orders of the ceasefire panels," said Major-General Raymundo Ferrer, a division commander in the area.

A spokesman for the MILF, which is meant to be observing a ceasefire, said they did not start the fighting.

"We don't know what will happen next but this will certainly have an adverse impact on peace talks," said Eid Kabalu.

A radio reporter on the ground said mortars were landing near houses and residents were fleeing the area.

"The explosions are getting louder and nearer," he said.

There have been sporadic clashes between MILF fighters and government troops before and analysts do not expect Sunday's fighting to trigger an all-out war.

Neither side has the resources for an outright victory and after nearly 40 years of conflict with more than 120,000 deaths both sides are war-weary.

The fighting comes on the eve of regional elections in a six-province homeland for Muslims in the south, the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and after thousands of majority Catholics in the south protested Manila's plans to sign a territorial deal with the MILF.

The deal, brokered by Malaysia and temporarily halted by the Philippines' Supreme Court last week, was meant to expand the six-province homeland and give a future government in the south broad economic and political powers.

Stung by criticism it was abandoning Catholics in the south, the government warned on Thursday it would take action against what it said was an MILF attack on the villages in North Cotabato.

The country's interior secretary said rebels had torched houses, looted farms and caused more than 6,500 people to abandon their homes and farms, forcing hundreds of farmers in nearby Catholic areas to arm themselves.

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