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Philippine army-rebel clash leaves 7 dead

July 13, 2013

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Members of a breakaway Muslim guerrilla faction attacked government troops Saturday, triggering a firefight that killed two soldiers and five guerrillas as negotiators from the government and the main rebel group were holding talks in Malaysia, the military said.

About 20 gunmen belonging to the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters ambushed the soldiers on a military truck in southern Maguindanao province’s Guindulungan township, about 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Manila, said regional military spokesman Col. Dickson Hermoso.

Hermoso said the firefight that erupted lasted about 15 minutes before the guerrillas withdrew with troops in pursuit.

The military said the same group launched attacks last week in Maguindanao and nearby North Cotabaot province to undermine ongoing peace talks. Five soldiers and at least 25 guerrillas were killed then.

Malaysia is brokering the negotiations to end the decades-long rebellion led by the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

The renegade guerrillas broke off from the main rebel front two years ago. The faction, led by Ameril Umbra Kato, has rejected the talks, saying the negotiations have gone nowhere, and has vowed to continue fighting for a separate homeland for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.

Negotiators signed a preliminary peace agreement in October. Saturday’s meeting in Kuala Lumpur was to cap this week’s talks meant to reach an agreement on sharing the wealth of the resource-rich southern region, but the two sides could not immediately settle on an acceptable formula.

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