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Bishop appeals for end to armed clashes

Government of Maguindanao needs to handle situation 'very carefully'

A Catholic bishop in the southern Philippine Archdiocese of Cotabato appealed to the government on Tuesday to immediately resolve armed clashes in the province of Maguindanao. Auxiliary Bishop Jose Colin Bagaforo said he was worried that the shooting war between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and followers of the ruling political clan in the area might escalate into a bigger conflict. "We would like the government of Maguindanao to handle the whole thing very carefully. In a sense, to explore all possibilities to avoid turning the whole thing into a big war or conflict," the bishop said. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said 197 families were already displaced by the fighting. Bishop Bagaforo warned that if the conflict is not immediately resolved other issues might be affected, including the trial of the suspects in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre and the coming elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. "The earlier it will be resolved, the better," he said, adding that the conflict can even affect the ongoing peace process between the Philippine government and the MILF. At least 11 people were reported killed last Sunday after suspected MILF rebels clashed with relatives of Maguindanao Governor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu. The rebels said they were only responding to complaints from residents about government militiamen looting houses. The Department of the Interior and Local Government, however, said the firefight stemmed from a “rido" or family feud. The military already deployed troops to the area to prevent the escalation of hostilities. PM13863.1648
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