Gunmen kill 9 in road ambush in southern Philippine town

COTABATO, Philippines (AP) — Gunmen in the southern Philippines killed a Muslim rebel and eight of his companions in a road ambush Saturday that authorities said was apparently sparked by a land dispute.

Several attackers raked two SUVs with assault rifle fire in an early morning ambush in an isolated farming village in Guindulungan town in Maguindanao province, killing nine people and wounding three others who were on their way to a meeting to resolve a longstanding clan dispute, police and local officials said.

Many such disputes over land, money and politics have been settled violently in southern areas with weak law enforcement, a surfeit of large numbers of loose firearms and the presence of armed groups controlled by powerful clans and politicians.

In November 2009, the country’s worst politically motivated massacre in the same province left at least 57 people dead, including more than 30 media workers. A court in 2019 found 49 people guilty, including members of an influential family.

One of those killed in Saturday’s ambush was Peges Mamasainged, a member of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation that signed a peace deal with the government in 2014. The rebels said his killing was apparently triggered by a clan dispute.

A part of the insurgent group, which has thousands of fighters, has returned to civilian life in exchange for livelihood packages from the government under the peace deal and efforts were continuing to fully demobilize other guerrillas. Former rebel leaders have become administrators of a larger and more powerful Muslim autonomy region but smaller and separate insurgent bands linked to the Islamic State group continue to pose a threat.

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