Clashes continue between government and Muslim rebels

By September 15, 2008

Philippines (MNN) – Approximately 130,000 people have been displaced from 42 villages as a result of Muslim attacks, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council. On Monday, Philippine aircraft and artillery bombed rebel positions for a second day.

According to International Christian Concern, the clashes were triggered when the government decided to suspend plans of extending Muslim homeland in the south. The two sides had reached an agreement covering the territorial makeup of the future expansion, but the Supreme Court postponed signing the accord last week after a petition was filed by Christian politicians. The guerrilla campaign for a separate Islamic state in the Christian-dominated southern Philippines has been ongoing for 30 years.

This prompted some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels to take control of mainly Christian villages in North Cotabato province, a poor farming region in Mindanao, Agence France-Presse reported. Seven rebels, three soldiers, and three civilians were killed during the battle for 15 villages in North Cotabato, according to Reuters.

ICC notes that North Cotabato is located near the sprawling, autonomous Muslim region of the Philippines, and concerns are that the deadly clashes could spread beyond North Cotabato. Although the military insists that attacks won't spread, MILF members attacked a town about 125 miles southwest of where the main skirmishes took place and disrupted elections there. 

Authorities say that refugees are being housed in 43 government evacuation centers on the southern island of Mindanao, where food, water and sanitation are provided by the government. Nearly 1,000 MILF guerrillas occupying 15 villages in North Cotabto were ordered to vacate the villages last week. 

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