Muslim separatist rebels attacked several towns in the southern Philippines Monday, killing at least two people, burning homes and looting businesses, military and police officials said.
The attacks triggered fresh fighting between government forces and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in the southern provinces of Sarangani and Lanao del Norte on the island of Mindanao, the military said.
The guerrillas swooped down on the town of Maasim in Sarangani before dawn, firing indiscriminately and looting businesses, said Chief Superintendent Felizardo Serapio, a regional police commander, the dpa reported.
Two civilians singing at a karaoke bar were shot dead by the rebels, Serapio said.
"Their motive was simply to sow terror and to loot," he said.
In Lanao del Norte, MILF rebels attacked four towns, burning homes and ransacking businesses and public markets, Lieutenant Colonel Romeo Brawner said.
The guerrillas also occupied some villages in the towns of Kolambugan, Maigo and Kausawagan, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes, Brawner said.
A highway in Kolambugan town has been blocked to traffic amid firefights between the rebels and government forces, he added.
On Sunday, four army soldiers and three government militiamen were killed in an ambush by MILF rebels in Mulondo town in nearby Lanao del Sur province. Eleven government forces were wounded.
The guerrillas also bombed two budget hotels in nearby Iligan City, wounding four people, army Brigadier General Hilario Atendido said.
The first explosion occurred at the Traveler's Inn in downtown Iligan City, wounding three people. Minutes later, another homemade bomb went off outside the Caprice Lodge, wounding one person.
The fresh hostilities came days after fierce fighting between MILF rebels and the military ended in neighbouring North Cotabato province, where hundreds of guerrillas occupied 15 villages for days, displacing nearly 160,000 people.
The guerrillas, who are fighting for the establishment of an independent Islamic state in Mindanao, occupied the villages two weeks ago after the Supreme Court stopped the signing of a Muslim homeland deal between the MILF and the Philippine government, which would have expanded an existing six-province autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao.
Catholic politicians have alleged that the deal violated the constitution and would have ceded sovereignty over the southern Philippines to the rebels. They have urged the Supreme Court to declare the agreement unconstitutional.