MANILA, Sept 19 (Reuters) Nine people were killed and seven were wounded today in a clash between two Muslim clans in the southern Philippines, an army commander said.
Colonel Pedro Soria, brigade commander in the Cotabato area on the southern island of Mindanao, said there was a brief car chase before the two armed groups exchanged automatic gunfire at a bridge linking two towns.
''It was not an ambush,'' Soria told reporters as troops rushed to the scene to prevent more bloodshed. ''It was a shootout. We're still investigating the incident because we don't know what and who started the fighting.
Soria said two of the dead were local residents caught in the crossfire, while the two sides together lost seven men. Seven were wounded, including Norodin Matalam, a former vice governor of Maguindanao province, and his wife, and five bystanders.
The military said Matalam's political foe, a village chief known as Tayatog, was killed with his five followers during the brief gunbattle.
Clan wars, known locally as ''rido'', are common in communities in the south of the mainly Roman Catholic country, and analysts say they pose a threat to a fragile four-year truce between the government and Muslim separatists.
Studies funded by the Asia Foundation and the US Agency for International Development found there had been more than 1,200 clan feuds in the south since the 1930s, killing nearly 5,000 people and displacing tens of thousands.
REUTERS SG VC1532