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Philippines accuses Muslim rebels of fresh attacks


Philippine authorities on Friday accused Muslim rebels of killing eight soldiers and police, bringing the death toll among security forces from an unexpected wave of violence this week to 27.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels ambushed two army convoys and a joint military-police patrol on the strife-torn southern island of Mindanao late on Thursday, military and police officials said.

Four soldiers were killed and six wounded in the first ambush while one other soldier was missing, said Colonel Santiago Baluyot, their brigade commander.

A soldier was wounded in a MILF ambush on another military truck two hours later, and four policemen were killed in a third ambush shortly afterwards, he said.

"We are (on) heightened alert and there is an operation going on to track down rebels responsible for the attacks," Baluyot said.

The attacks occurred over a four-hour span within a 60 kilometre (36-mile) radius, in an area of the island that has been troubled by the decades-old Muslim rebellion.

The attacks came two days after MILF forces killed 19 soldiers on the remote southern island of Basilan in one of the worst outbreaks of violence between the two sides in years.

The MILF has said five of its own fighters were killed in that clash.

MILF spokesman Von al Haq tolf AFP rebels did carry out the three assaults on Thursday night, but insisted they were in retaliation for military attacks.

The fresh fighting has further complicated efforts to end one of Asia's longest insurgencies, with the MILF and the military accusing each other of breaking a ceasefire in place to promote peace talks.

The 12,000-strong MILF has waged a rebellion since the 1970s for an independent Islamic state or autonomous-rule in the southern third of the mainly Catholic Philippines.

The rebellion has left about 150,000 people dead, with most of the deaths coming in the 1970s when an all-out war raged.

Although the two sides signed a truce in 2003 that paved the way for peace talks, the ceasefire is frequently marred by clashes across the vast Mindanao region, which Muslims claim as their ancestral homeland.

This week's clashes have been the most deadly since 2008, when 400 people were killed after two rebel commanders led attacks on a series of mainly Christian-populated villages.

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AFP News

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