Three slain, nine taken hostage in Philippine rebel attacks

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Cotabato City, Philippines_(dpa) _ Three civilians, including a 5-year-old boy, were killed and nine were taken hostage by Muslim separatist rebels in two attacks in the southern Philippines, police said Friday.

The civilians were slain when Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels attacked a military outpost Thursday in Midsayap town in North Cotabato province, 930 kilometres south of Manila, said the town's police chief, Inspector Renante Cabico.

Cabico said the victims were among 150 people caught in the crossfire between the MILF guerrillas and army troops.

"They were visiting relatives when the clashes between the army and the MILF occurred," he said. "They were hit by stray bullets as they fled with about 30 families."

In Basilan province, 900 kilometres south of Manila, MILF rebels stormed two villages in Maluso town and took nine people hostage, said Senior Superintendent Salik Macapantar, provincial police director.

Macapantar said the guerrillas raided the villages Friday and took the hostages as they fled. He said government security forces have been dispatched to hunt down the rebels and rescue the captives.

The attacks occurred as the military launched fresh airstrikes against MILF rebel positions in nearby Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte provinces.

The military offensives have triggered new evacuations of refugees in the affected areas, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross.

Robert Paterson, a Red Cross medical delegate in the Philippines, said the continuing hostilities have also "discouraged people already displaced from returning to their homes."

"In view of the fact that the government will revive peace talks with the MILF only on the condition that there is disarmament and that the MILF refuses to disarm prior to a final peace agreement, long-term displacement is likely," he said.

Peace talks between the Philippine government and the MILF were called off after the rebels launched a series of deadly attacks in southern provinces in August.

The attacks and subsequent fighting killed more than 200 people, mostly civilians, and forced more than 500,000 to flee their homes at the height of the hostilities.

Because of the fighting, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo dissolved the government's peace-negotiating panel with the MILF and ordered a review of the peace talks.

Arroyo has stressed the government would only return to the negotiating table if the MILF disarms and demobilizes its forces and reintegrates them into the mainstream community. dpa gl ls jh

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