Despite skirmishes with soldiers which have killed 10 people over the past few days, Muslim rebel leaders said yesterday they remained ready to begin formal peace talks with the Government. President Fidel Ramos' chief aide Ruben Torres said a rebels' emissary had said to him that 'Government should not worry so much about this [fighting]. This will not derail the discussion that we are having'. Military officers of the Southern Command said the fighting in the country's south was initiated by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) so the rebel organisation would have 'more leverage' in the planned peace talks. 'It's a show of strength, that's all,' said a field officer of the 6th Division. But army spokesman Lieutenant Noel Detoyato said the MILF wanted to seize the site where an irrigation dam was being built, in order to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiations. Al-Haj Murad, the MILF's vice-chairman for military affairs, denied the accusation. But MILF leaders admitted they initiated the fighting, insisting they were merely protecting the rights of local residents, some of whom say the Government has still not paid them for their land. Informal discussions are taking place between the Government and the MILF, which was left out of a peace agreement signed on September 2 by the Moro National Liberation Front. Over the weekend, the MILF sent two 200-man teams to raid an army company of about 100 men guarding a 3.5 billion peso (HK$1 billion) dam being built in the province of North Cotabato. A spokesman for the 6th Division admitted that some villages were shelled when the rebels retreated into them.