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Renewed fighting flares on Mindanao

Armed conflict just days after landmark peace deal

Renewed fighting flares on Mindanao

Government and MILF peace negotiators conclude the peace deal in Mindanao. (Photo courtesy of OPAPP)

Joe Torres, Manila and reporters, Mindanao

January 27, 2014

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Clashes between the military and a breakaway faction of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) erupted in the southern Philippines on Monday, two days after the government and the main rebel group signed the final part of a peace plan that could see a semi-autonomous Mindanao.

Government forces attacked a stronghold of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the remote village of Sultan sa Barongis in Maguindanao province, resulting in the evacuation of hundreds of civilians.

Fighting broke out when authorities tried to serve arrest warrants on 25 BIFF fighters for murder and hostage-taking that took place last year, military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said.

The BIFF broke away from MILF in 2008, accusing it of betraying the Moro people's quest for full independence.

There were no reported casualties as of Monday afternoon.

“[We will] continue the struggle” despite the peace deal, BIFF spokesman Abu Misri was quoted as saying on Saturday.

"What we want is an Islamic state, an Islamic people, an Islamic constitution," he said.

He was speaking after the government and the MILF signed the last of four documents in Kula Lumpur on Saturday that make up the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, which is intended to end four decades of fighting in Mindanao.

The conflict has killed an estimated 150,000 people.

The Bangsamoro is aimed at replacing the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and give Muslims in this part of the country greater independence, within the Philippines.

The normalization annex outlines the laying down of arms by the rebels. The government for its part will also reduce the military presence in Mindanao, and help the MILF neutralize private armed groups.

Both parties have earlier signed the annexes on transitional arrangements and modalities, revenue generation, wealth sharing and power sharing.

It’s not clear when the final peace agreement will be signed.

MILF vice chairman, Ghadzali Jaafar, said a comprehensive agreement "will usher in the end of the Mindanao conflict, the war in Mindanao".

"The desire of the Bangsamoro people is to have their own government, a government run by them but still under the Republic of the Philippines and not separate from the Republic of the Philippines," he said.

Saturday’s signing was welcomed by the United States and European Union.

The signing “marks the end of a long and difficult process of peace negotiations,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement on Monday.

She said the EU “will continue to fully support the implementation of the process," adding that all parties "need to demonstrate their goodwill for long lasting results."

Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States was "encouraged" to see a conclusion to the peace talks.

"This agreement offers the promise of peace, security and economic prosperity, now and for future generations in Mindanao," Kerry said in a statement.

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