Philippine army in southern clash

The Philippine army says it has used helicopter gunships and heavy artillery in a battle with Muslim separatists on the southern island of Mindanao. 

The army said its forces were attacked on Sunday by some 200 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters and that fighting was still going on. 

The MILF said its leaders did not sanction the clash and that Malaysian monitors were heading to the scene. 

The fighting is the worst since a truce came into effect 17 months ago. 

It comes before the two sides resume peace talks in Malaysia next month. 

But Philippine and Malaysian officials said the clash, involving an army detachment near the town of Mamasapano, was not likely to affect negotiations as it was an isolated event by a small group of breakaway rebels. 

The MILF is the largest Muslim rebel group in the Philippines, a mainly Roman Catholic country. 

Talks between Muslim rebels and the Philippine government to end the 35-year separatist conflict are due to restart in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in February. 

The military said the group of MILF fighters had joined forces with a small group allegedly involved in kidnaps for ransom, and known as Abu Sofia, to avenge the killing of suspected kidnappers by soldiers last week. 

Security forces say the leader of the Abu Sofia group, who was killed in last week's attack, is the brother of an MILF commander. 

The peace process has stalled and resumed many times in the last two years.

10/01/2004

Bron : BBC New

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