Muslim rebels drove off more than 1,000 Christians from a southern Philippine farming village and took over their land, the guerillas and a mayor said Friday.
Armed members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) entered the coastal village of Sangay in the town of Kalamansig on the troubled island of Mindanao Wednesday to demand food and rice recently harvested by the farmers, Kalamansig Mayor Rolando Garcia said, according to The Associated Press.
In the past, the armed rebels have demanded food and stayed only briefly in the village, but this time they told villagers to leave and occupied the land. Faced with about 300 armed MILF guerillas, the scared residents fled to Kalamansig town about three hours away by boat while the rebels remained in the village.
"I sent a peacekeeping force there to settle the problem amicably but they were forced to withdraw to avoid bloodshed," Garcia said of the 14-man police team sent to the area, according to AP.
There were no immediate reports of violence or casualties.
Garcia said his town has about 1,200 people in their temporary shelter area who are too afraid to return to their farms, according to Reuters.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu said the group took over the land because it belongs to them.
For more than three decades, MILF has fought to establish a Muslim homeland in the southern area of the largely Catholic country. Decades of war have killed 120,000 people and displaced two million.
In 2003, the group agreed to a ceasefire with the Filipino government as the two sides held peace talks brokered by Malaysia. But some rebels are frustrated with the long peace talks with Manila, which has stalled since December 2007.
Last week, Malaysia said around 20 of 41 of its peacekeepers would leave on May 10 and the rest would be withdrawn by the end of August because the peace process was not moving forward.
Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has repeatedly said she wants peace, but her cabinet members are opposed to granting large pieces of land to Muslims, according to Reuters. Moreover, politically powerful Christian groups in the south would oppose the deal.
MILF's Kabula said the group's leaders did not approve of the land takeover, and that the MILF was in talks with officials to resolve the situation in Sangay. He also noted that the situation was local and the government and rebel negotiators were not involved.