COTABATO, Philippines: Four people have been killed in clashes between rival political clans in the southern Philippines, authorities said Sunday, just days after a contentious election reinstated a local mayor.
Fighting has flared between Sabal and Buisan clans in the strife-torn southern province of Maguindanao over the vote on May 9, the same day as national elections, which saw Muntasir Sabal retain his post, beating out a Buisan-backed opponent.
A member of the Buisan family was killed a day before the polls and subsequent violence on Friday and Saturday claimed three more lives.
About 15,000 people have fled the town of Talitay since Friday as fighters from both sides gathered in the area, local police chief Senior Inspector Freddie Solar said.
He said those fighting had ties to the country’s two largest armed Muslim groups that once fought the government to set up a separate Islamic state in the south of the largely-Christian Philippines.
“This is not an ordinary family feud because both sides have relatives and supporters from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF),” he said.
Though both groups have signed truces with the government as part of a peace process, most of their followers have not disarmed.
The military has sent forces into the area since the clashes erupted, but soldiers are not engaging either of the armed groups to avoid breaking the ceasefire, said regional military spokeswoman Captain Jo-ann Petinglay.
The police chief said local religious leaders and MILF representatives were trying to negotiate a ceasefire to end the latest bout of violence, while chief MILF negotiator Mohaqher Iqbal denied his group was involved in the fighting.
The province of Maguindanao has long been the site of violent political conflict between powerful Muslim clans.
In 2009, the country’s worst political massacre occurred in the province as followers of one such clan killed 58 people in an attempt to prevent an election challenge from a rival group. AFP