updated 12/22/2008 9:00:35 PM ET 2008-12-23T02:00:35

Gunmen in the southern Philippines opened fire on a U.N. truck carrying rice to thousands of people displaced by fighting between government troops and Muslim rebels, killing one worker, a U.N. representative said Tuesday.

The truck was ambushed Sunday evening in Calanogas township in Lanao del Sur province, where government troops have been battling Muslim rebels since tensions flared in August, said Stephen Anderson, the World Food Program representative in Manila.

He said his agency was working with the government to investigate the shooting, which killed a Filipino worker who was in the truck. The truck was contracted by the WFP.

"WFP strongly deplores the senseless loss of life of an individual who was assisting in the delivery of humanitarian assistance," Anderson said in a statement.

A military official, Col. Rey Ardo, told the local media the attackers were probably bandits who wanted to rob the truck. It was not clear if the truck was escorted by Philippine troops.

WFP has been supplying tons of rice to about 300,000 Filipinos in the country's south who fled their homes at the height of fighting in August, when Muslim rebels went on a bloody rampage in the Lanao communities to protest the scrapping of a preliminary peace deal.

The agreement to expand an existing Muslim autonomous region was nullified by the Supreme Court acting on a petition by Christian politicians.

The government has subsequently put peace talks on hold, although it recently indicated it was ready to restart negotiations.

The rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have been fighting for self-rule in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation's south for decades.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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