Philippine troops, backed by rocket-firing helicopters, killed at least 15 communist rebels and lost five soldiers in two days of running battles, officials said on Tuesday.
The fighting was centered around sparsely populated villages in a remote forested area in southern Bukidnon province, where troops were pursuing about 60 guerrillas who seized weapons in a jail raid last month, said army spokesman Maj Michele Anayron Jr. After two days of clashes starting on Sunday, troops overran a rebel camp and recovered two bodies, Anayron said, adding intelligence reports indicated 13 other New People Army's guerrillas also were killed. Five soldiers also died.
He said the rebels had been on the run since last month, when they clashed with troops who responded to the attack on the jail in the provincial capital of Malaybalay.
Their movements were hampered by about 15 wounded guerrillas, he said.
He urged the wounded rebels to surrender, promising they would get medical treatment. But he said the military advised the Red Cross not to enter the area because they could be caught in the crossfire.
The rebels have intensified attacks on small army and police units and even poorly guarded jails to seize weapons and to thwart an order by President Gloria Macapagal to crush their 40-year-old Maoist insurgency by next year.
Peace talks, brokered by Norway, stalled in 2004 when the rebels accused the Philippine government of instigating their inclusion on the US list of terrorist organizations.
Rebel ranks have thinned to an estimated 5,200 _ down from a peak of more than 25,000 in the mid-1980s _ because of battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism.