Muslim rebels burn houses in S Philippine town

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COTABATO, Philippines, Jan. 7 (Xinhua) -- Suspected Muslim separatist rebels burned seven houses of civilians on Wednesday night in the southern Philippines as Manila retained the state of emergency in the south, the police said on Thursday.

Around 50 gunmen believed to be members of Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the country's largest rebel group, arrived in one of the village of Datu Hofer township in Maguindanao and torched seven homes of people, said provincial police commander Superintendent Alex Lineses.

The rebels told locals they were looking for private armies of a Muslim clan accused in the November 23 last year massacre of 57 people, including journalists in the province of Maguindanao.

Lineses said disappointed they failed to find any of their targets, the armed men burned houses of civilians.

"No one was hurt in the incident," he said.

Lawmen deployed additional troops in the area to protect the civilians and prevent similar incidents.

The MILF has been fighting government troops for decades to establish a self-rule Muslim state in the south of the predominantly Catholic country. Peace talks between the two sides remain stalled since August, 2008 following the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain.

However, efforts are being undertaken by both sides to revive the talks. A final peace deal with the government will touch the issues of autonomy and the civil settlement of the rebel group's 11,800-strong guerrilla fighters.

Editor: Lin Liyu