Boxing: Rebel groups and government forces cease hostilities to watch mega-bout

COTABATO, Philippines (AFP) - In a rare common cause, both rebels and soldiers in the war-torn southern Philippines will watch local boxing icon Manny Pacquiao take on Floyd Mayweather, with hopes that Sunday's mega-bout will bring a brief respite from violence.

The Muslim rebels and government forces will have separate free viewings of the Las Vegas clash, as the nation waits to see whether Pacquiao will triumph during the epic fight.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf), the country's largest Muslim armed group, will watch the fight on a widescreen TV at a compound in the southern province of Maguindanao on Sunday, said Milf vice-chairman Ghadzali Jaafar.

"They asked me if they could show it outside my office. I told them okay, I see no problem with that," Jaafar told AFP.

He said both Milf members and non-members were free to attend the showing in the tightly guarded compound barely a kilometre (mile) from the Milf's heavily armed main camp.

When asked whether he expects that there will be no trouble during the fight, he said: "We pray for that. That is our hope." Regional military spokeswoman Captain Joan Petinglay confirmed that the military forces in Maguindanao will also have their own showing of the fight in a gymnasium on Sunday.

The Philippines has been known to come to a standstill during its boxing hero's fights, with criminals and guerrillas of various stripes eagerly following his matches.

Pacquiao's long-awaited battle with Mayweather has gained even more attention, as it will finally settle which of the two is the best pound-for-pound fighter of their generation.

Maguindanao in the southern island of Mindanao has been one of the hotspots of the four-decade separatist struggle that has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives.

The Milf's Jaafar denied that the group, which is negotiating peace with the government to end decades of a Muslim separatist war, was holding the screening as a sign of support for Pacquiao, who is regarded by many Filipinos as a national icon.

"We are supporting the sport (of boxing). Whoever is involved in the sport, we will want to support both of them. We are not siding with anyone, as far as I am concerned," he said.

"There may be individual Milf who are siding with Pacquiao," he conceded.

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