Rebel attacks kill seven in Philippines
A soldier carries a wounded trooper from Basilan province as they land at the southern port city of Zamboanga, Philippines Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2011. Philippine troops are battling Muslim guerrillas in fierce fighting in volatile Basilan province that has killed at least 15 combatants. (AP Photo)
The Associated Press
Published Friday, October 21, 2011 6:40AM EDT
MANILA, Philippines - Muslim rebels killed four soldiers and three police officers in separate attacks in a southern province just days after 19 soldiers died in one of the worst clashes with the guerrillas in three years, authorities said Friday.
The violence is severely testing a cease-fire instated as the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front hold peace talks to end the bloody decades-long insurgency.
Seven soldiers and three officers were wounded following attacks by rebel fighters late Thursday on an army convoy, a military delivery truck and a joint army-police patrol in three townships close to each other in Zamboanga Sibugay province, regional police chief Elpidio de Asis.
Rebel spokesman Von al Haq said the attacks were the initiative of local rebel forces in retaliation for the army's alleged "indiscriminate shelling" of Muslim villages Saturday and Thursday, which prompted hundreds of villagers to seek shelter in homes of relatives in nearby communities.
He told The Associated Press the rebel "leadership is working very hard to prevent this from escalating" and ordered their fighters "to stay put."
Col. Santiago Baluyot, commander of the army's 102nd Brigade in Zamboanga Sibugay, said the first clashes were Saturday in Payao township when troops backing police officers who were going to serve an arrest warrant to a crime suspect were fired upon.
He said this prompted the army to hit back with "protective fire" using Howitzer cannons. This happened again on Thursday. He said the rebels were not supposed to be in that area.
"Why should they occupy that? It's a clear violation of peace talk terms," he said.
The rebels and the government are negotiating a peace settlement of the decades-long rebellion by the minority Muslims who are fighting for self-rule.
Al Haq said the shelling of the Muslim civilian communities was a violation of a general cease-fire agreement which was severely shaken by clashes in the southern island province of Basilan south of Zamboanga Sibugay on Tuesday that left 19 soldiers and six rebels dead.
The Basilan clashes were the deadliest since 2008, when peace talks bogged down and ignited widespread clashes that killed hundreds and displaced 750,000 people.
President Benigno Aquino III has called his military commanders to a meeting later Friday to discuss why the army suffered so much.
Aquino has refused to order an all-out offensive against the rebels amid a clamour from the military and some officials for tougher government action.
"Are we advocating 'let's go all out war' and that redounds to an improvement in the situation? We should learn, nobody benefits in war," he said Thursday.
The rebels have waged a bloody insurgency for self-rule in the southern Mindanao region, the homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. The conflict has killed more than 120,000 people in nearly four decades.