COTABATO CITY, Philippines (Mindanao Examiner / Apr. 3, 2011) – Muslim rebels clashed Sunday with pro-government militias in the southern Filipino province of Maguindanao and conflicting reports said as many as 8 people were killed in the fighting.
The army confirmed the clashes, but would not say if there were casualties in the violence. “There was a clash alright, but we cannot give any details as far as casualties are concerned. We are still getting all the facts here,” Major Marlowe Patria, a spokesman for the 6th Infantry Division, told the Mindanao Examiner.
He said the fighting occurred in the town of Mangudadatu late in the afternoon and that troops had been sent to the area to contain the violence. Both sides have been fighting over control of lands in the town.
“This is land conflict. We have sent troops to contain the violence to prevent it from spilling to other areas. Troops are there to protect the civilians from getting caught in the conflict,” Patria said.
News reports said at least 8 people were dead in the fighting in the village of Tenuk and among the casualties are relatives of Esmael Mangudadatu, the government of Maguindanao province.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front said some of its members were involved in the bloody clash and accused the militias who are working for the governor of starting the fight.
“The militias just attacked MILF members who were cutting coconut trees on a farm in the village and this triggered a firefight. There are casualties on the MILF side, but we still don’t know how many were wounded or killed,” said Eid Kabalu, a spokesman for the Muslim rebel group which is currently negotiating peace with Manila.
Kabalu said the conflict between the rebels and the militias stemmed from a land dispute and that there have been talks in the past to end the violence, but sporadic clashes still occur in the town.
“This is an old conflict and we wanted this to end and to settle the problem peacefully, but apparently the latest attack sparked other bloody and senseless killings,” he said.
In 2009, the wife and sister of Mangudadatu were killed along with 56 people, including journalists accompanying them in a political caravan, when rival gunmen who were allegedly militias of then Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. held them and brutally murdered all on a remote village.
Ampatuan and other clan members, including his sons, were eventually arrested in connection with the massacre. (Mindanao Examiner)