Fighting between Christians and Muslims over land in the southern Philippines has killed at least four people and forced more than 240 others to flee, officials said last Thursday. The fighting broke out after suspected Muslims fatally shot a former village official and his female companion, both Christians, on 29 January as they rode a motorcycle in Pulunoling, a village in South Cotabato province, said local army commander Brig Gen Alfredo Cayton Jr. Suspected Christian gunmen retaliated on 6 February, strafing a house owned by a local commander of the Muslim separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF. No one was hurt, Cayton said. On Tuesday, suspected Christian attackers killed a MILF member and his wife, prompting a retaliatory attack hours later by suspected Muslim men who fired shots near the site of the killing, causing no injuries, he said. MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu could not confirm the fatality was a group member, saying only that relatives of MILF members were involved in the feud. Officials have said the two groups have been fighting over land but gave no details. Cayton said the army deployed about 60 soldiers and a number of police in the village and that local officials have imposed a curfew. "They are now conducting random checks and are banning everyone from carrying guns," he said, adding that about 240 villagers, fearing for their lives, have abandoned their homes and moved into two nearby schools. Cayton said local officials have convened talks among the villagers, a MILF local commander, police and the army in an attempt to quell the violence. Pulunoling is a predominantly Christian farming village in Tupi town, about 1,000 kilometres southeast of Manila, but the MILF has a presence in the area. Muslims are a minority in the mainly Roman Catholic Philippines, but militants have waged a three-decade-long rebellion for self-rule in the south of the country.
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