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7 soldiers slain, 11 hurt in ambush by MILF in Lanao del Sur

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By Joel Guinto, Agence France-Presse
First Posted 13:05:00 08/17/2008

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Four soldiers and three pro-government militiamen were killed while 11 others were wounded after an Army convoy was ambushed by suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Lanao del Sur province on Sunday morning, officials said.

At around 8 a.m. a four-vehicle convoy was on the highway in Mulondo town, on their way to deliver cash allowances to militiamen in neighboring Lumba-Bayabao town when they were fired upon by around 100 armed men who were positioned on higher ground, said Brigadier General Hilario Atendido, chief of the 102nd Infantry Brigade.

“The attack sparked a two-hour firefight. Even after the arrival of the reinforcement troops the firefight was ongoing,” Atendido said in a phone interview.

Atendido could not ascertain the group affiliation of the attackers, but spokesmen for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine Army, Lieutenant Colonels Ernesto Torres Jr. and Romeo Brawner Jr., respectively, said that they are members of the MILF.

A spokesman for the rebels, Eid Kabalu, could not confirm or deny the involvement of the MILF in the incident.

“We are counter-checking, but we have a lot of people there,” Kabalu, the civil military affairs chief of the MILF, said in a phone interview.

The fatalities include four Army soldiers and three members of the Civilian Armed Forces Geographic Unit (CAFGU); the wounded include eight Army men and three CAFGU troops, Brawner said.

But Atendido said only 10 troopers, not 11, were wounded.

The ambush came a week after military offensives flushed out an estimated 500 MILF rebels from 15 poor farming villages in North Cotabato. The fighting left two solders and an estimated 31 MILF fighters killed.

More than 200 houses were burned by the rebels and numerous farm animals and equipment stolen when the MILF occupied the area, leaving unexploded bombs behind as they fled, the military said.

The MILF has been waging a separatist rebellion since 1978, but it signed a ceasefire agreement with Manila in 2003, paving the way for peace talks.

The Supreme Court two weeks ago however aborted a deal between the government and the MILF that would have given the rebels control over vast areas of lands in the south.

The MILF shortly after that attacked government positions and took over the villages.

The civil defense office in Manila said social workers and local officials, aided by the military, were helping displaced villagers return to their homes. Many however, remained fearful of being attacked again and were refusing to leave evacuation centers.

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Written by joelguinto

Sun+00:002008-08-17T06:42:32+00:00+00:0008b+00:00Sun, 17 Aug 2008 06:42:32 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am08

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