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Seven killed in ambush by Philippine Muslim rebels

world Updated: Aug 17, 2008 11:36 IST

Four soldiers and three pro-government militiamen were killed in an ambush by Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines on Sunday, the military said.

Eight soldiers and three militiamen were also wounded in the attack near the town of Malundo in Lanao del Sur province, the military said.

The casualties were being airlifted to the nearest military base, and troop reinforcements had been sent to the area to hunt the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels who carried out the attack, the military said.

The ambush came four days after government forces, using heavy artillery and air support, dislodged MILF rebels from some 22 villages they had occupied last week.

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.

About 160,000 people were displaced from their homes, and the fighting left nearly 30 MILF rebels, six civilians and two soldiers dead.

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 defence 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 centres.