Page last updated at 08:46 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 09:46 UK

Peacekeepers to stay in Mindanao

Troops evacuate an injured soldier from Lanao del Norte on 27 August 2008
Dozens of people have died in fighting in the region this month

Malaysia says its peace monitors will remain in the southern Philippines for three more months, following an outbreak of fierce fighting there.

Dozens of people have been killed in recent violence between troops and separatist Muslim rebels on the island of Mindanao.

Villages have been burned and hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

The fighting flared up after the Supreme Court blocked a deal to expand an existing Muslim autonomous zone.

The government had hoped that the deal would end decades of violence in the region.

But Christian communities opposed the plan, and when the court suspended it in early August, some of the rebel commanders launched attacks.

'Violence should stop'

Malaysia has been hosting negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) since 2001.

But it began withdrawing peace monitors from the region in May, citing a lack of progress in the talks.

The decision to extend the mission followed a request from the Philippine government, Malaysian Foreign Minister Rais Yatim said.


It came after chief negotiators for both the government and the MILF visited Kuala Lumpur for talks.

"A three-month period would be a reasonable extent of time for us to play that role to bring together the... [peace] process," he said.

"We are concerned about the continuing violence, and this is the first segment of our address so that violence should stop."

At least 12 monitors will remain in the region until 30 November.

Dozens of people have been killed in the southern Philippines since early August.

Last week, hundreds of guerrillas raided three mainly Christian towns near the existing autonomous zone, leaving at least 30 people dead. The MILF blamed the raids on renegade commanders.

Troops are trying to capture the rebels, and some areas have seen heavy fighting. The military says about 50 civilians, 100 rebels and 17 soldiers have died. The rebels say only 10 of their fighters have been killed.

Aid agencies are trying to get food to the hundreds of thousands of people who have fled the fighting.

"We have rice stocks at a warehouse in Cotabato, close to the affected area, and we've acted quickly to move food out to where it is most needed," the World Food Programme's country director, Stephen Anderson, told the Associated Press news agency.

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04 Aug 08 |  Asia-Pacific
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Timeline: The Philippines
12 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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