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4 dead in fighting between two rebel groups in S. Philippines

(Xinhua)

13:17, September 15, 2011

COTABATO CITY, Philippines, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- At least four rebel combatants were killed and five others were wounded as fighting between two warring Islamic rebel organizations erupted in the southern province of Maguindanao.

Von Al Haq, spokesman for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, told Xinhua Thursday that members of their 106th Command were attacked around 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday by followers of the Ameril Umbra Kato of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Movement (BIFM) under Commander Uztads Ansa Indal in the village of Ganta, Datu Piang town.

Al Haq said the five-hour gun battle left four dead and five wounded from both sides.

"The fighting was sporadic. Our men did not fire first. They were ambushed by Kato's men while crossing the village," he said.

Kato, who is in his late 60s and leads a breakaway force of 200 to 300 fighters, headed the Front's 105th Base Command. But he decided to break away from the MILF over disagreements on the handling of the peace process and for allegedly abandoning him in the aftermath of the 2008 violence that escalated after the government failed to sign the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

In December last year, he formalized his separation from the MILF and announced the formation of his group, BIFM, and called for jihad, or holy war, for a separate Muslim state.

Al Haq said locals have evacuated to safer grounds for fear of their safety.

He said two followers of Kato were killed, three others wounded while two on their side and another two injured.

"Muslim clerics have given Kato two weeks to settle with us his problem and return to the organization or else he will be removed from those covered by the cease fire. Meaning, once he will be removed, soldiers can now freely run after him," Al Haq added.

The MILF has been fighting government troops for decades to establish a self-rule Muslim state in the south of the predominantly Catholic country. Peace talks between the government and the MILF remain stalled since August 2008 following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

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