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Clashes with Muslim rebels in Philippines displace thousands

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Renewed fighting between Muslim rebels and the Army in the southern Philippines has caused at least eight deaths and forced nearly 130,000 people to flee their homes. The clashes have been sparked by a controversial deal to expand a Muslim autonomous zone in the region, which was created in 1996 as part of a peace accord between the Filipino government and Muslim rebels. The fighting highlights the sectarian tensions that plague the country.

According to the BBC, troops began their attack on Sunday, after Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels failed to leave North Cotabato Province, which is not included in the five-province Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

The fighting has caused many families to be displaced, reports the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a leading Filipino newspaper.

According to Asia News, trouble began last week when the Supreme Court issued an order to halt the signing of a deal between the government and MILF rebels following a wave of protests throughout the Philippines. Earlier this month, government and MILF negotiators were expected in Malaysia to sign an agreement laying down new borders for the ARMM. Acting on a petition filed by Christian politicians in North Cotabato who fear losing land and power to the Muslims, the Supreme Court stopped the deal, even though the government insisted it would end the 10-year-long conflict with the Muslim rebel group.

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