Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas, reporting from Talayan in Mindanao, says thousands of people, mostly farmers, have been living in evacuation centres since last August, surviving on handouts under harsh conditions.

The MILF formed as a breakaway group in 1977 after splitting from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The MNLF subsequently entered into negotiations with the government in Manila and signed an agreement a decade later relinquishing its stated goal of independence.

The 12,000-strong MILF has, however, continued the struggle for political autonomy, becoming one of four groups that are fighting for a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

MILF members held

In another development, a Philippine court sentenced three MILF members to life imprisonment on Friday for multiple bombings in Manila eight years ago that killed 22 people and wounded nearly 100 more.

"This is a triumph of justice," Leopoldo Bataoil, police chief in Metro Manila, said after the court's verdict was handed down, adding it would boost the government's efforts to fight terrorism.

Among those found guilty was Mukhlis Yunos, head of the MILF special operations group, who was caught wearing a disguise at an airport on the southern island of Mindanao in 2003.

According to court records, Yunos and his group received instructions and money from leaders of Jemaah Islamiah, Southeast Asia's regional armed Muslim network, to bomb selected targets in Manila, including a light rail network and a commuter bus.

Five blasts occured, in all, on December December 30, 2000.