MANILA » The Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group said today that it has ordered one of its commanders to halt attacks against a rival guerrilla leader to try to end a land feud that has killed at least 14 combatants and displaced more than 3,000 people in the country’s south.
Von Al Haq, a spokesman for the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said one of the group’s commanders, Adzme Kasim, has been ordered to halt attacks and take a defensive posture to ease a week of sporadic clashes in southern Datu Piang town.
Government troops have not intervened but are standing by.
Regional military spokesman Col. Prudencio Asto said 14 combatants have been killed in the sporadic clashes, including six fighters on Kasim’s side. More than 3,000 villagers have fled from the scene of the fighting and many have sought shelter in nine school buildings being guarded by troops.
Such violent clan conflicts, known locally as "rido," have long been a nagging security concern in the southern Philippines, which is already mired in decades-long Muslim rebellions.
The government’s chief negotiator, Marvic Leonen, has expressed concern over frequent infighting within the Moro rebel group, saying that he hoped guerrilla leaders could show that they can control their men.
A cease-fire monitored by Malaysian-led foreign troops has held between government forces and the rebels, with no clashes reported this year. At least three major clan wars, however, have erupted this year among Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters, displacing thousands of villagers, Leonen said.
Al Haq said the two rebel commanders in Datu Piang, about 560 miles southeast of Manila, were contesting ownership of a 15-acre (6-hectare) farmland wedged between a vast marshland and a major river.
Brig. Gen. Restituto Aguilar said the feud between Kasim, who heads a Moro Islamic Liberation Front combat unit, and rival Muslim rebel commander Abunawas Ebad from the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has worsened into an organizational conflict. He expressed hope the fighting would not spill into other areas.
The breakaway Bangsamoro rebel group is led by Ameril Umbra Kato, a radical commander opposed to peace talks with the Philippine government.
Meanwhile, two powerful bombs were found and safely defused by troops and police Saturday near an electric power pole in Guindolongan town, near Datu Piang, and at a bus passenger terminal in Tacurong City in nearby Sultan Kudarat province.
Regional police director Felicisimo Khu said intelligence reports indicate the bombs were part of attempts by Muslim rebels to extort money from business establishments and appeared unrelated to the land feud.