Source AP ©

Philippine government troops clash Muslim rebels

Though islamic nations called for an end to clashes between Philippine government troops and Muslim rebels that have killed at least 12 people, Manila officials vowed to continue efforts to capture a firebrand guerrilla commander.

The secretary-general of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, appealed to the government and the Moro National Liberation Front on Monday to disengage their forces on southern Jolo island following several days of fighting.

The two sides signed a 1996 peace accord, which the OIC helped broker, but the maverick MNFL commander on Jolo, Habier Malik, had refused to disarm, provoking sporadic clashes.

Malik's group launched mortar attacks that hit two marine camps and houses near the townhall in the Jolo town of Panamao late last week, killing two marines and a child, the military said.

Fearing more attacks from Malik, a spiritual leader with 300-500 armed followers, the military deployed up to 3,000 troops and marines, backed by helicopter gunships, to seize Malik's Panamao camp over the weekend but failed to capture him, military spokesman Lt. Col. Bartolome Bacarro said.

Ihsanoglu said he will consult with the two sides about the creation of "a small military monitoring mission" to help prevent further violence, according to an OIC statement.

Philippine officials, however, said government forces would continue to hunt down Malik to bring him to justice. The Philippines is not an OIC member, and repeated requests by Manila to be granted observer status have not been met.

"What's going on now is a punitive action by the government on Malik and his men who committed criminal acts," Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said.

"The action is not against the MNLF. We have a peace accord with them and that stays," Seguis told The Associated Press.

The Philippine government will provide the OIC with details of how the clashes started, he said.

Malik has been suspected of providing sanctuary to al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas and Indonesian terror suspects who have been on the run from a massive U.S.-backed offensive that started in August, military chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon said.

Presidential adviser Jesus Dureza said about 8,000 villagers have fled their homes and were being given food rations in government shelters.

The MNLF was the largest Muslim separatist group in the southern Philippines until it agreed to accept increased autonomy and signed the 1996 peace agreement. A breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, currently is engaged in Malaysian-brokered peace talks.