7 soldiers killed in Isabela clash
MANILA – Seven Philippine soldiers were killed and eight others wounded Saturday in a clash with communist guerrillas who are waging a decades-old Maoist insurgency, the military said.
The army casualties were part of a foot patrol that clashed with New People's Army (NPA) rebels in a remote area of Isabela province on the main island of Luzon, said Philippine Army spokesman Colonel Cirilito Sobejana.
"They were on security operations, combat operations. We have inserted reinforcements by helicopter and are picking up the casualties," Sobejana told reporters in Manila.
He added residents had told the army up to five guerrillas were also killed, but said no bodies of any rebels were found when the army casualties were evacuated.
Fighting has broken out in two areas of the northern province of Isabela amid efforts by the government to restart stalled talks aimed at ending one of Asia's longest-running rebellions.
Sobejana said the deadly skirmish occurred during the army's patrol at dawn near the mountainous town of San Geronimo.
NPA rebels also clashed Saturday with another army unit in the adjacent town of San Mariano, but there were no known casualties there, the military spokesman said.
Peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front, the rebels' front organization, were due to have resumed in Norway last month.
The rebels however called them off after Manila again rejected their long-standing condition that 18 jailed comrades must be released before negotiations can resume.
The communists have been waging a rebellion since 1969, and more than 30,000 people have died in the conflict, according to the government.
Both sides announced in February last year, following talks in Norway, that they had set a deadline of June 2012 to sign a final peace deal, but negotiations went nowhere due to the issue of the detained guerrillas.
The military estimates the NPA's current strength at about 4,000 fighters nationwide, significantly down from over 26,000 at its peak in the 1980s.
However the NPA retains support particularly in impoverished rural areas.
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