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More than 180 killed in Philippine fighting-army

ICC Note:

An update on the escalating violence in the Philippines as a result of the Muslim rebels backlack against the halting of a peace deal aimed at expanding their autonomous region in the country.

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8/27/08 Philippines (Reuters) Civilian casualties are mounting in the southern Philippines, where fighting between the army and Muslim guerrillas has killed at least 187 people in the past 10 days, the military and a human rights official said on Wednesday.

The military said about 60 civilians were killed in attacks by renegade Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters on towns in the south and in mortar shelling. In addition, 110 rebels and 17 soldiers died, officers said.

It is the worst violence for years in the Mindanao region of the Christian-majority nation where the rebellion has prevented any significant development of some of the richest mineral and hyrdrocarbon resources in Southeast Asia.

The fighting erupted early last week, days after a territorial agreement between the government and the rebels was halted by the Supreme Court over an appeal by Christian leaders.

Brigadier-General Jorge Segovia, chief of the army’s operations centre, blamed rogue members of the MILF for the deaths of the civilians, saying troops have been avoiding attacks on local communities.

“We’re not shelling or dropping bombs on villages,” Segovia told Reuters, saying mortar fire from the rebels was erratic and falling on civilian areas. “It is these rogue MILF members who are behind burning of houses and murder of innocent civilians.”

The government however has said it is committed to peace and has asked Malaysia to keep its peace monitors in the south after Aug. 31, when the mandate of an international team monitoring the ceasefire between the military and the MILF ends.

“We have made a request,” Hermogenes Esperon, the president’s peace adviser, told ambassadors of Muslim nations in Manila.

He said the two sides might hold a meeting in Kuala Lumpur or in Manila to agree on extending the international team’s role in preventing conflict in the south from escalating.

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