COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / July 27, 2008) – Philippine authorities accused Muslim rebels negotiating peace with Manila as behind a raid on a small village in Mindanao that wounded at least three soldiers.
The weekend attack in the North Cotabato town of Aleosan also forced hundreds of villagers to flee their homes. Rebels also burned several houses before they retreated.
Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, an army spokesman, said sporadic fighting in the area had been going since last week. “The rebels have been attacking government forces in the town since last week,” he said.
But the MILF said government militias, backed by army soldiers, had attacked rebels in the town, sparking sporadic, but fierce clashes. “One of our mujahideen was wounded in the government attack,” Eid Kabalu, a rebel spokesman, said.
Kabalu also denied rebels set fire houses in the town. “Those houses were in the middle of the area where rebels and soldiers are fighting. The structures were hit by rocket grenades,” he said.
The fighting broke out after peace talks between rebels and government negotiators collapsed on Friday in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia, a member of the influential Organization of Islamic Conference, is brokering the seven-year old peace talks.
Malaysia previously blamed the Arroyo government for stalling the peace talks that led to renewed fighting in Mindanao, home to more than 18 million people and four million of them are Muslims.
The MILF, which is fighting the past four decades for the establishment of a separate Islamic state in Mindanao, accused Manila of reneging on a deal that would grant Muslims their own homeland.
Rebel leaders also accused the government last year of reneging on previous agreements on the Muslim ancestral domain that nearly led to the collapse of the peace process.
They blamed hawks in the government and anti-Muslim politicians with huge business interests and vast tracks of lands in Mindanao for the failure of the talks. (Mindanao Examiner)