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Thousands flee as fighting grinds on

Land dispute drags Moro rebels into armed confrontation leaving villages in southern province as ghost towns

Residents flee the fighting in their village in the province of North Cotabato Residents flee the fighting in their village in the province of North Cotabato
  • Keith Bacongco, North Cotabato
  • Philippines
  • February 14, 2011
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Authorities in the Philippines admitted yesterday that around 9,000 villagers have so far been displaced as a result of recent clashes between rebel groups in remote villages in the southern Philippine town of Kabacan in North Cotabato province.

A land conflict dragged members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation (MNLF) into armed confrontation.

The social welfare department reported that Nangaan and Simone villages are now ghost areas after residents fled to safer places.

Social worker Honey Joy Cabellon said residents of the two villages have been living in evacuation centers since the fighting erupted.

Aiza Panayaman, 20, said she left her village on January 29 when MILF rebels attacked Nangaan, some 20 kilometers from Kabacan.

While at the evacuation center in nearby Salapungan village, Panayaman and her children are staying in a makeshift tent inside a school compound.

Cotabato’s governor, Emmylou Taliño-Mendoza, said the government will not intervene in the row between the Moro rebel groups to avoid any escalation of the conflict that could derail ongoing peace talks.

"In the first place, nobody has complained from both sides. It is their problem and we will let them resolve it," the governor said.

Reports also quoted military officials in the province that they will not step into the row of the warring groups.

"I do not want to complicate the peace process," said Brigadier General Cesar Sedillo, commander of the army’s 402nd brigade based in the nearby town of Carmen.

MILF is the largest separatist movement in Mindanao and broke away from MNLF in 1977. MILF is currently talking peace with the Philippine government while MNLF has already forged a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

The warring groups have yet to resolve the conflict, Mendoza said, She has ordered the local government of Kabacan to prioritize aid for affected families.

"The needs of the affected families on both sides, whether they are families of MILF or MNLF, should be taken care of. Their safety is our top priority because they have nothing to do with this conflict," she said.

Related reports
Filipino Muslims raise concerns in dialogue
Bishop calls for urgent peace in Mindanao

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