Suspected communist rebels killed at least six soldiers and wounded six others in a pre-dawn ambush Tuesday in the central Philippines, the military said.
Members of the Philippine Army’s 46th Battalion were heading to an area near the town of Calbiga in Samar province to check on reports that New People’s Army (NPA) rebels were harassing civilians when they were attacked by the guerrillas, local army spokesman Capt. Reynaldo Aragones told reporters.
He said the rebels first detonated a landmine they planted along the road in the village of Beri, about 12 km (7.5 miles) from the town before engaging the soldiers in a four-hour exchange of gunfire.
“Six of our men died. We are checking if our enemies have also suffered casualties. The area where the incident occurred was remote,” Aragones said, adding that additional troops were inserted in the area to pursue the attackers.
The NPA is the armed wing of the underground Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging one of Asia’s longest-running insurgencies since 1969. President Rodrigo Duterte suspended peace talks with the insurgents in 2017, angered by the rebels’ continued attacks amid the negotiations.
Last month, Duterte announced “permanent termination” of the talks until his six-year term ends in 2022, but has also recently raised the possibility of reopening it if exiled communist party founder Jose Maria Sion returned to Manila.
Tuesday’s attack was the deadliest since three suspected NPA rebels were killed and three others captured when they raided a municipal police station also in Samar on the eve of the rebel movement’s 50th anniversary last month.
Samar is one of the strongholds of the NPA due to its dense forests and mountains. Officials said that the insurgents have also been using the region’s high incidence of poverty to lure disaffected youths into the rebel force.
Nonoy Espina in Bacolod city contributed to this report.