Suspected communist guerrillas wounded at least eight soldiers escorting foreign aid workers, including nationals of other Southeast Asian countries, during an attack on a military convoy in the southern Philippines on Thursday, officials and the state news agency said.
Gunmen believed to be members of the New People’s Army (NPA) exploded a landmine as the convoy carrying an 11-man group was coming down from the mountains after leaving Impasug-ong town in Bukidnon province, said Lt. Col. Ronald Illana of the 8th Infantry Battalion.
“Eight soldiers were wounded, including the army team leader,” Illana said, adding that the foreigners were unharmed.
Local reports said three guerrillas were injured in the clash.
Officials did not provide details on the foreigners, but the state-run Philippine News Agency said they included “foreign observers” from Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“They are non-combatant civilians,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edgard Arevalo told reporters. “That is a totally detestable act.”
Pia Paraiso, a spokeswoman for the local NPA unit, confirmed through a local radio station that communist guerrillas were involved in the attack, but declined to give details.
Col. Edgardo de Leon, commander of the Philippine Army’s 403rd Brigade, said the foreigners had visited the village to study how an indigenous community had preserved its cultural traditions.
“They wanted to see the activity of the Higaonon lumad in the village,” de Leon said.
After spending a night in the village, the foreigners left Thursday morning aboard a truck provided by the local government unit and they were escorted by the military, he said.
But the attackers, believed to be communist rebels, detonated a landmine that struck the army truck, leading to a 40-minute firefight, officials said.
The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been waging Asia’s longest-running insurgency since the 1960s.
More than a week ago, Philippine security forces killed at least five suspected communist guerrillas in two clashes in the southern provinces of Surigao del Sur and Agusan del Norte.
Last month, gunmen believed to be NPA rebels killed at least six soldiers and wounded six others in a pre-dawn ambush in the central Philippine town of Calbiga in Samar province, officials said.