Hundreds of people fled their homes on a southern Philippine island after fighting erupted between rival Muslim rebel groups, an army spokesman said on Wednesday, raising concern peace talks with the government planned later this month could be affected.
Six people were killed and an undetermined number of fighters from both sides wounded in sporadic clashes on Mindanao island since Saturday, said Colonel Prudencio Asto.
The fighting erupted between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a separatist group which has been negotiating with the government to end a long-running insurgency, and the breakaway Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF).
The BIFF has rejected the peace process.
"We're not getting ourselves involved in the conflict, but we've been helping relocate the displaced families," Asto said, saying the groups were fighting over a six-hectare corn-and-rice farm and mediation efforts had been unsuccessful.
Marvic Leonen, the government's chief peace negotiator, said Manila was worried the land dispute could escalate into an organisational conflict that could sabotage peace talks due to be held August 22-24 in Kuala Lumpur.
Von al Haq, a MILF spokesman, said they have been trying to get the warring groups to withdraw their forces.
"This fighting was purely because of land conflict and has nothing to do with the peace process," al Haq said in a statement posted at the rebel website www.luwaran.com.
"We are confident the peace process will not be affected."
Nearly 400 families had fled the fighting, with most of them temporarily housed in school buildings at the town centre.