POSTED: 1:50 a.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011
MANILA, Philippines >> Two commanders from the Philippines’ largest Muslim rebel group have clashed in a dayslong land feud that has killed at least six combatants and displaced hundreds of villagers in the southern Philippines, officials and the guerrillas said Wednesday.
Von Al Haq, a spokesman for the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front, said one of the group’s commanders, Adzme Kasim, and a rival from a guerrilla faction have been clashing since the weekend, with dozens of their men exchanging gun and mortar fire in Maguindanao province’s Datu Piang town.
More than 300 families have fled from three Datu Piang villages amid the fighting, which eased Wednesday into sporadic exchanges of gunfire as local officials and rebel leaders tried to pacify both sides.
“We’re trying to control the situation,” Al Haq told The Associated Press by telephone. He said government troops, which were standing by four miles (six kilometers) from the fighting, had been warned not to meddle.
Such violent clan conflicts, known locally as “rido,” have long been a nagging security concern in the southern Philippines, which for decades has seen Muslim rebellions pester the resource-rich but impoverished Mindanao region, homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Such conflicts, stoked by large numbers of illegal weapons and weak law enforcement, are usually set off by disputes over land, politics or businesses.
The government’s chief negotiator, Marvic Leonen, has expressed concern over frequent infighting within the Moro rebel group, saying Wednesday 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 narrow but fertile piece of land wedged between a vast marshland and a major river.
On Sunday, a rival commander, Abunawas Ebad, attacked a village controlled by Kasim, who then gathered his forces and fought back. Two days later, Ebad captured another nearby village held by Kasim, occupying the village hall and a mosque. Heavy fighting eased Wednesday but snipers from both sides continued firing, the military and rebels said.