Communist rebels ambushed an army convoy in the southern Philippines with land mines and machine-gun fire yesterday, killing three soldiers and wounding 13.
Two army trucks carrying troops back to barracks from a combat operation hit several land mines along a highway in President Roxas town in North Cotabato Province, army Major Lyndon Paniza said in a telephone interview.
About 20 New People’s Army rebels then opened fire on the soldiers from the side of the road, killing three and wounding at least 13, Paniza said.
Before reaching the ambush site, one of the trucks had broken down, forcing the convoy to stop. Paniza said he suspected a villager tipped off the rebels because the convoy came under attack farther down the road.
Paniza said troops were scouring the area for a wounded rebel who was apparently left behind after the clash.
“We will finish this fight. We will not let down,” he said.
Helicopter gunships were on standby to back up troops pursuing the guerrillas, he said.
Two of the wounded soldiers were in serious condition in a North Cotabato hospital. Doctors were forced to give an injured officer tranquilizer shots after he angrily insisted on joining his men in combat, nurse Fe Mendoza said.
Army troops last week failed to track down guerrillas in the mountainous region after receiving reports of rebels near some villages and an attempt to extort money from rubber and palm oil traders, Paniza said.
The rebels withdrew from peace talks in 2004 after accusing the government of instigating their inclusion on US and EU terrorist lists.
The Philippine military chief, General Hermogenes Esperon, said last month the armed forces were on track to crush the insurgency in two years.
He said the number of rebel fighters had dropped from 5,781 in December to 5,470 now because of battlefield losses, surrenders and desertions.