The clashes have erupted amid ongoing talks between the government and the rebels, who have waged a decades-long campaign for self-rule.
Philippine aircraft and artillery bombed rebel positions for
a second day on Monday, Reuters reported.
Violence flared last week after the country's Supreme Court
decided to suspend plans for an extended Muslim homeland in the south,
prompting some Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels to take control of mainly
Christian villages in North Cotabato province, a poor farming region in Mindanao,
Agence France-Presse reported.
Some rebels left on orders from MILF leadership, but others
defiantly set up defensive positions.
The 12,000-strong MILF has waged a 30-year guerrilla
campaign for a separate Islamic state in the south of the largely Christian
The National Disaster Coordinating Council said 129,819
people have been displaced from 42 villages in North Cotabato. The refugees are
being housed in 43 government evacuation centers in the province in the
southern island of Mindanao, said Glenn Raboza, an NDCC executive officer,
according to AFP. The government was providing water, sanitation and food.
In the battle for 15 villages in North Cotabato province,
seven rebels, three soldiers and three civilians were killed, the military said,
according to Reuters. The MILF said four of its members had been killed and
Manila, which is smarting from accusations it had abandoned
majority Catholics, has vowed to flush hundreds of MILF rebels out of the area.
The military said two villages were now clear of rebels.
"We are conducting air strikes, close air support to
our ground forces. Our forces are inching in towards the different barangays
(villages) with the objective of clearing them," said Lt. Gen. Cardozo
Luna, deputy military chief. "Of course we use big weapons like
The military insisted the clashes would not spread, but MILF
members attacked a town on the island of Basilan, about 125 miles southwest of
where the main fighting was taking place, and disrupted voting in local
The separatist MILF had called for elections in the
six-province Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to be cancelled because they
want a new Muslim homeland with more political powers established as part of a
The two sides had reached agreement covering the territorial
makeup of a future expanded Muslim region, but the signing of the accord was
halted last week by the Supreme Court, acting on a petition filed by Christian
politicians in North Cotabato who are wary of losing land and power to the
There were concerns that the deadly clashes could spread
beyond North Cotabato, a predominantly Christian province of more than a
million people located near the Philippines' sprawling Muslim autonomous
About 1.5 million Filipino Muslims in the region voted under
heavy security Monday for a new governor, vice governor and other posts in the
regional assembly. The five-province region has a history of insurgent and
factional violence, but the nearby fighting did not immediately affect the
The government had given the estimated 800-1,000 MILF
guerrillas until Friday morning to vacate 15 villages in five North Cotabato