Sunday, August 14, 2011

Thousands Flee Philippines Fighting

About 3,000 people huddled in evacuation centers in the southern Philippines on Sunday, seeking to escape fighting between two Muslim armed groups. The rivals were in a stand-off but more violence could break out between them at any time.

The fighting pits Commander Adzmie of the country’s main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, against Commander Abunawas, leader of an armed band that broke away from the MILF. The clashes are over longstanding land dispute between Adzmie and Abunawas, government and MILF officials said. Similar land disputes between Muslim clans have led to violence in the often lawless southern Philippines over many years.

16 fighters had been killed in the unrest, which broke out last week.

A spokesman for the 12,000-strong MILF, had similar estimates and said his group has been trying to open peace negotiations with the forces of Abunawas but had been unsuccessful so far.
The fighting began in the town of Datu Piang but sporadic clashes had taken place in neighboring towns at the weekend, forcing more people to flee.

The military, which has a ceasefire in place with the MILF as part of protracted peace talks, has not become involved in the fighting but is trying to prevent it from spreading and endangering those who fled. The MILF has long fought for an independent Muslim state in the southern third of the Catholic-dominated Philippines, but has agreed to negotiate for autonomy instead.

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