Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Fresh Fighting Erupts Between Philippine Military, Muslim Rebels

Fresh fighting erupted between Philippine troops and Muslim separatist rebels in the country's troubled southern region amid efforts by the government to break an impasse in peace talks. Lieutenant Colonel Julieto Ando, a regional army spokesman, accused the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of triggering the firefight in Shariff Aguak town in Maguindanao province, 960 kilometres south of Manila. He said 80 rebels attacked an army detachment in the village of Kuloy twice within three hours. Soldiers fought back, but no casualties were reported on both sides, he said. "They are intentionally doing this harassment, and then they blame us later that we started the skirmishes," Ando said. He said the military was filing a formal complaint against the MILF for violating a three-year-old ceasefire agreement with the government.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied the guerrillas started the latest clash, and vowed the rebel group would also file a complaint against the military before international ceasefire monitors. "It was the soldiers and militiamen who attacked our positions," he said. "They even shelled our positions since (Saturday) night and (Sunday) morning. We are observing the truce." The fresh hostilities erupted as government peace negotiators submitted a new proposal to the MILF to resolve a deadlock over the key issue of ancestral land rights or what areas to include in an expanded autonomous Muslim region in the south. The government has so far declined to divulge details of the new proposal. Talks between the government and the 12,000-strong MILF hit a snag in September when rebel negotiators rejected a government proposal to add only 600 villages to the existing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The MILF wanted to add more than 1,000 villages to the ARMM, which currently covers five predominantly Muslim provinces and the Islamic city of Marawi. The MILF has been fighting for an independent Islamic state in Mindanao since 1978. In the past, it claimed that the entire Mindanao is the ancestral domain of the country's Muslim minority and should be governed separately from the rest of the Philippines.