Rebel skirmish drives away Cotabato villagers

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KIDAPAWAN CITY: The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) clashed anew on Wednesday in two barangays in Matalam town, North Cotabato, displacing at least 70 families.

The tension took place after a group of MILF members burned a house owned by member rival group MNLF, after which the two groups clashed on Wednesday in Barangay Kidama, Matalam, forcing villagers to evacuate.

The villagers fled to neighboring barangays to prevent being hurt from the clash, according to the Matalam local government’s report.

Spokesman of the Army’s Sixth Infantry Division (6ID) Captain Tony Bulao said the fight erupted, when “intruding” MILF members headed by Alimansur Imbong, broke through the MNLF-controlled farming territory in Barangay Kidama, and shot dead a water buffalo owned by MNLF member Macapagal Mangadta before his house was set on fire.

Mangadta is a sibling of MNLF commander Dragon based in Barangay Kidama, according to the residents.

The two groups broke a truce mediated by local officials and representatives of the joint Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities (CCCH) here. The truece was signed on May 23 this year, after a fight in Marbel, Matalam town on May 6 that displaced more than 6,300 villagers; reportedly half of evacuees remained hesitant to return to their homes.

“We appeal to the leaders of the MILF and MNLF to discipline their field commanders to avoid unnecessary loss of lives,” Bulao said.

Gov. Emmylou “Lala” Talino-Mendoza of North Cotabato called on GPH-MILF Peace Panel to find a further solution to the tensions between the two groups.

The conflict in the area is believed to be rooted in land dispute.

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