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Peace gab marred by fresh clashes

Army, BIFF renew fighting:  seven killed A new round of fighting between Army troops and a renegade group of Muslim rebels broke out on Saturday, leaving seven people dead amid peace talks aimed at ending a decades-old rebellion, a  military official said. Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, who oppose the main Islamic rebel group’s negotiations with Manila, ambushed an Army truck  in Mindanao, regional military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso said. Two soldiers were wounded in the initial volley, but the army gave chase to the retreating gunmen and killed five of them, he said in a written report. “Reinforcement troops  encountered 20 armed men believed to be  BIFF members.  A firefight ensued and five of the lawless elements were killed,” Hermoso said. The pursuit also left two soldiers dead and four other soldiers wounded, he added. The BIFF  had mounted attacks on Mindanao on July 6, two days before the government resumed peace talks with the region’s main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.   It  is led by Ameril Umbrakato, a Saudi Arabia-trained cleric who was expelled by the MILF in 2011 for his hardline stance against the peace talks. The earlier fighting had left five soldiers and three gunmen dead and sparked fears that it would affect the peace talks. The peace talks aim to create an autonomous region for the Muslim minority in Mindanao, the southern third of the mainly Catholic nation of 100 million. The two sides signed a preliminary deal in October outlining the broad terms for a peace treaty that would be signed by 2016. The Kuala Lumpur talks aim to spell out revenue-sharing terms with the national government in the self-rule area. The talks were continuing on Saturday, President Benigno Aquino’s spokeswoman Abigail Valte said in an interview on government radio. In a phone interview, the official from the  Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process who was in Kuala Lumpur  expressed hope that both parties would finally agree on a wealth-sharing scheme. “Given the good mood  that they had  on Friday, we are hopeful that both parties would finally agree on the wealth-sharing scheme,” the OPPAP source said. The supposed four-day talks  were extended until Saturday after both parties failed to enter into a compromise over the issue of  revenue-sharing as well as taxation. MILF vice-chairman for political affairs Ghadzali Jaafar said both sides agreed in February to a 75-25 wealth-sharing formula, but the government   changed its mind and insisted on a 50-50 formula, which the MILF found  unacceptable. There were reports that the MILF panel have “walked-out” from the talks on Thursday due to the issue. The source said that the MILF never walked out from the talks although he admitted that the situation was tense. The source explained  that  panel members appeared to be  “stressed out”  since the Islamists were celebrating Ramadan and could not come home for the tradition  and instead stayed late for the prolonged  discussion. “And the reason they easily became stressed  was because they are fasting. They did not eat the whole day and some of us in the government are  also fasting in solidarity with the Islamists,” the source added. The 12,000-member MILF has waged a guerrilla war for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao since the 1970s that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives. With Sara Fabunan and AFP
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