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Ten dead in southern Philippine clash

world Updated: Aug 22, 2008 09:32 IST

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Clashes killed 10 people in the southern Philippines overnight just hours after the government scrapped a controversial peace deal with Muslim rebels, the military said on Friday.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters ambushed government troops late on Thursday in Guindulungan town on strife-torn Mindanao island, local military spokesman Colonel Julieto Ando said.

"During the firefight, five soldiers were wounded and 10 MILF rebels killed," he told AFP, adding that two civilians were also injured by stray bullets in the gunbattle.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu said on Friday that "fighting continued today with the military using air and ground assets, apparently to get Commander Kato."

Commander Umbra Kato is a rebel MILF commander who launched a series of attacks on villages and towns two weeks ago that have killed scores and displaced thousands of people.

The attacks came after the Philippine Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order against signing the peace agreement, known as the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

The limited autonomy pact between the government of the mainly Christian nation and the 12,000-strong rebel group aimed to end a 40-year-old conflict that has left more than 120,000 dead and tens of thousands displaced.

President Gloria Arroyo scrapped the deal on Thursday after Christians and politicians in Mindanao objected to what they saw as an unconstitutional move to create an independent Muslim state.

The government has put a bounty of 10 million pesos (220,000 dollars) on the heads of Kato and another MILF commander, Abdurahman Macapaar, also known as Commander Bravo, for recent attacks on civilians.

Local army commander Colonel Marlou Salazar said parts of the highway linking Davao and Cotabato cities were closed to traffic on Friday because MILF fighters were occupying some of the bridges.

"We are still clearing the highway and I am confident it will be open soon," he said.

At least 100,000 civilians have fled their homes in the south since the military stepped up their offensive against the rebels, who have defied the MILF leadership's orders to stand down.