More than 16,000 people have fled from four southern Philippine towns where government troops have been battling Muslim guerrillas and outlaws in clashes that are endangering already-shaky peace talks and a years-long truce.

Attempts by Philippine authorities to arrest several current and former commanders of the 11,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front and allied gunmen accused of kidnappings for ransom and other crimes sparked separate deadly clashes last week in Zamboanga Sibugay province and on Basilan island.

The Moro group has been waging a bloody fight for self-rule in southern Mindanao region, homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. A cease-fire has held since 2008.

President Benigno Aquino III said Monday his administration would continue talks with the insurgents but seek the arrest of criminals, including those from the rebel group.

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