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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Rival Philippine Muslim rebel groups clash, 6 dead

MANILA, July 25 (Reuters) - Six Muslim rebels were killed and five others, including an eight-year-old boy, were wounded when two rival factions fought a series of skirmishes in the southern Philippines, a senior police official said on Tuesday.

Superintendent Lumala Gunting, police chief of Maguindanao province on the southern island of Mindanao, said fierce fighting between two rival groups of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) broke out during the weekend.

"The military and local police forces were not involved in the violence," Gunting told reporters, adding the fighting was caused by a long-standing grudge between leaders of two local groups of MILF rebels.

"Based on our investigation, the fighting began on July 19 when the group of Commander Talio Macalpan ambushed the forces of Commander Kayob Pual. The clashes ended late on Monday after a boy was hit by a stray bullet."

Eid Kabalu, a spokesman of the MILF, said the two sides had agreed to a truce late on Monday after Malaysia-led peace monitors promised to act as a go-between to end their differences.

The MILF, with the help of Malaysia, has been negotiating with Manila since 1997 to halt a conflict that has killed more than 120,000 and held back development of the south, which is rich in oil, minerals and agricultural goods.

Hopes of a peace deal by the end of the year have faded after talks between the rebels and the government of the mainly Catholic Philippines stalled in May over the size of a proposed homeland for Muslims in the south.

The rebels' chief peace negotiator told Reuters on Saturday the MILF was awaiting a new proposal from Manila to widen the area designated as Muslim ancestral lands and did not expect to resume talks in the next three months.
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