Tuesday, January 31, 2006

9 Slain In Clashes In Maguindanao

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Zamboanga Journal / 31 Jan) At least 9 people were killed in fierce fighting between government soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Maguindanao province in the southern Philippines.

The MILF said the fighting erupted Sunday and sporadic clashes continued the next day in the villages of Tapikan and Lepok, all in Datu Unsay town after soldiers and members of the military-backed Civilian Army Geographical Armed Forces (CAFGU) harassed rebel forces.

"One MILF fighter and eight CAFGU members were slain during the intense firefight, which the latter initiated by attacking MILF positions in said villages," a statement posted on the MILF website at
http://luwaran.com said on Tuesday.

It said the fighting stopped after security forces, which sustained heavy casualties, retreated at nightfall.

But the military's Southern Command denied Tuesday the MILF claims and said only three militiamen were wounded in the clash.
"As far as we are concerned only three militias are wounded in the fighting. The rebels attacked our security forces and soldiers retaliated only in self-defense," said Maj. Gamal Hayudini, Southern Command chief information officer.

Bon Al-Haq, the MILF cease-fire committee chairman, some politicians in the province were meddling in the fighting making it difficult to prevent hostilities from breaking out in other areas.

Al-Haq did not identify the politicians, but many of them maintain private armies and gangs in Maguindanao and are known to keep huge number of illegal weapons.

Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said the fighting was triggered by a land conflict between two Muslim families, but soldiers sided with one group and attacked MILF forces in the villages for a still unknown reason.

"The fighting could have been prevented had not government soldiers joined the conflict. Every conflict has a peaceful solution and fighting is not the solution because it only aggravates the situation. The MILF is working closely with the government cease-fire committee and the international truce observers to defuse the tension in the area and bring back peace again," Kabalu said.

The fighting broke out ahead of the resumption of the peace talks between Manila and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, which is brokering the negotiations.

Manila opened peace talks with the MILF, the largest separatist rebel group fighting for the establishment of a strict Islamic state in the southern Philippines, in an effort to strike a political deal that would put an end to more than three decades of bloody hostilities in the strife-torn, but mineral-rich region.

But despite the peace talks, sporadic clashes still continue in the south with both sides accusing each other of violating a fragile five-year old truce. President Gloria Arroyo said 80% of the peace talks are done and that government and rebel negotiators are near into signing a peace accord.

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