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Thousands flee in Philippines as troops fight rebels

Some 2,000 people have fled their homes in the southern Philippines as government troops clash with members of a breakaway Muslim group. The rebels have allegedly been trying to derail ongoing peace talks.

The 2,000 villagers fled overnight Friday from renewed fighting between government forces and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), taking refuge in a school in the village of Nalapaan, provincial governor Emmylou Mendoza told AFP news agency.

Mendoza said the main fighting was taking place in villages near the town of Aleosan in Maguindanao province, 930 kilometers (578 miles) south of the capital, Manila.

An army spokesman said at least two rebels were killed and two soldiers wounded during "intense fighting" early Saturday.

The rebel group is being blamed for a series of bomb attacks that have killed 17 people over the past two weeks.

Police have also reported two other violent incidents in Mindanao in the past day or so, including a grenade blast that injured four people in the town of Kabacan late on Friday. On Saturday, an improvised explosive went off at a roadside near the town of North Upi, injuring no one, while police disarmed a second device nearby.

The government alleges that the BIFF rebels are carrying out attacks in an attempt to disrupt current peace talks between it and the main insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The talks aim to end a decades-long conflict that has claimed 150,000 lives. The two sides have agreed on the creation of a new autonomous entity by 2016, and details are now being finalized.

BIFF broke away from the MILF in 2011 and has vowed to fight for a separate Islamic state in Mindanao. MILF dropped this demand in exchange for greater autonomy for Filipino Muslims.

tj/hc (AFP, dpa, AP)