Philippine rebels cleared off occupied towns: Army

August 13th, 2008 - 5:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Manila, Aug 13 (Xinhua) The Philippine army Wednesday claimed to have flushed out some 500 Muslim rebels from towns in the south after three days of shelling. The government troops have virtually cleared all villages of the rebels, eastern Mindanao Command spokesman Armand Rico told reporters.

The troops are still working on the removal of mines and explosives possibly laid by the rebels, he told the reporters.

The military has sent explosives and ordnance experts to the areas to check for booby traps planted by the rebels before fleeing, Rico said.

A Scout Ranger soldier was injured Tuesday when he tripped a landmine while taking part in a clearing operation in Aleosan town.

Fourteen people, including 13 rebels, were killed and 13 others injured in the clashes that started Sunday morning. The clashes caused around 160,000 local residents to flee homes in North Cotabato province raising fears of a looming refugee crisis.

Faith groups and international organisations have been calling for the warring parties to return to the negotiation table. And the World Food Programme (WFP) is dispatching 400 tonnes of rice worth $308,144 to assist 96,000 people in the conflicts-torn zones over a month.

“We are not yet recommending the return of the civilians (because of possible mines). What we are doing is procedural, that’ s why we’re calling them conditionally-cleared,” Rico said.

The 12,000-member Moro Muslim group has been fighting the government since the 1970’s for an Islamic homeland for the country’s nearly four million Muslims in southern Philippines.

The group once signed a truce with the government but it was loosely implemented. The peace talks between the two sides have been on and off.

Sporadic fighting erupted between the rebels and government forces in the south since last Monday when the country’s Supreme Court halted the signing of a Muslim homeland agreement.

The agreement is seen instrumental to a final peace accord but it had met protests from the Christian groups in the South and strong criticism from the opposition of the administration.

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