Philippine troops hunt down communist rebels who killed soldiers in jungle ambush

06/01/10 - MANILA, Philippines — About 300 soldiers, backed by helicopter gunships, began hunting down communist guerrillas behind two weekend attacks that killed five soldiers in the country's rural northeast, officials said Monday.

The country's Marxist insurgency, one of Asia's longest, has been raging on despite a deadline by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for the military to crush the rebels by the end of her term June 30.

The soldiers were ferried by helicopters and trucks in a hinterland area near Presentacion township in Camarines Sur province, about 155 miles (250 kilometres) southeast of Manila, to search for about 30 to 40 New People's Army rebels, regional army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said.

The rebels initially shot dead one of several soldiers guarding a government road project Saturday. Twelve soldiers looking for the attackers were ambushed later in the day and four were killed, he said.

Their bodies were later retrieved by troops. A soldier who hid during the attack was rescued after informing his commander of his location by text messages, he said.

The rest of the soldiers, three of them wounded by grenades and rifle fire, managed to return to camp.

"They never raised their hands to surrender. They fought until they ran out of ammunition, forcing them to retreat," Cabunoc said.

Arroyo flew to Camarines on Monday to condole with the families of the slain soldiers and hand out financial help. She also visited the wounded in a military hospital.

In a separate incident Saturday, a soldier was killed and seven others were wounded by a land mine blast on the outskirts of southern Davao city, regional military spokesman Capt. Emmanuel Garcia said.

Communist guerrillas apparently planted mines to block the advance of government troops whom they had fought twice earlier Saturday, Garcia said.

The military says the rebels' ranks have thinned to about 4,000 from more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s because of battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism.

Peace talks between the rebels and the government brokered by Norway collapsed in 2004 after the rebels accused Arroyo's administration of instigating their inclusion on U.S. and European terrorist blacklists. (hostednews)

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