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New Violence Kills 16 in Philippines - 2003-02-20


At least 16 people have been killed in the latest outbreak of violence in the southern Philippines. Two explosions rocked the region Thursday as the government tries to save peace talks with Islamic separatist rebels to end more than 30 years of hostilities in the Muslim-dominated south. Philippine police suspect rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in a bloody raid and several explosions on the southern island of Mindanao.

But the MILF rebels have denied involvement in the three separate attacks.

The first incident occurred late Wednesday, when guerillas opened fire with automatic weapons on Kalawit village - killing at least 14 people.

Then a market in the town of Kabakan was hit by an explosion. Authorities say the suspected bomber was the only fatality.

Later Thursday, a car bomb exploded outside the Cotabato airport - setting fire to shops, killing one person and wounding several others.

Governor Parouk Hussin immediately inspected the damage to the airport and told VOA the situation is under control.

"I came from there [airport] just a while ago," he said, " I think the armed forces and the regional police are very much on top of the situation."

Mr. Parouk says it is "highly probable" that the incidents could be related to last week's military offensive against the MILF - in which more than a hundred Muslim guerillas were killed.

The fighting has brought nearly two years of peace talks to the verge of collapse.

On Wednesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved a government peace plan for the MILF. But the group refused to resume negotiations, scheduled in Malaysia next month, unless the military withdraws from MILF areas.

The MILF is fighting for a separate Islamic state on the southern islands of the largely Roman Catholic Philippines.

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