Foreign birdwatchers nearly caught in Philippine gun battle

A group of birdwatchers from Britain, Denmark and Australia narrowly avoided getting caught in a gun battle between the Philippines military and insurgents that left their guide wounded, officials said on Saturday.

Manila: A group of birdwatchers from Britain, Denmark and Australia narrowly avoided getting caught in a gun battle between the Philippines military and insurgents that left their guide wounded, officials said on Saturday.

Three Britons, three Danes and an Australian were visiting the Mount Kitanglad natural park in the southern island of Mindanao yesterday when the fighting broke out between soldiers and communist insurgents, police and military spokespersons said.

The military were pursuing a group of rebels from the communist New People's Army (NPA) when the shoot out began less than 200 metres (328-656 feet) away from the birdwatching party, said Major Christian Uy of the local military command.

"They heard gunshots and unfortunately, one of their guides was hit in his right arm," he told AFP.

"Initially, the foreigners scampered away," but were able to regroup hours later in the outskirts of the Malaybalay city, he said.

The guide was hospitalised while the foreigners are all safe, said Uy and police spokeswoman Inspector Jiselle Longakit.

Uy said the military was surprised by the presence of the foreigners as they had been pursuing the same NPA band since Wednesday after they killed a soldier in the area.

Many Western nations advise their nationals to be careful in travelling in parts of the southern Philippines where various armed groups are active.

Mount Kitanglad is a protected area that has long attracted nature lovers due to its diverse wildlife, especially birds.

In 2012, two European birdwatchers from the Netherlands and Switzerland, were abducted while on an expedition to photograph rare birds in the remote Tawi-tawi island group in the south.

The Swiss man, Lorenzo Vinciguerra escaped from the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf militants who were holding them in December but the Dutchman, Ewold Horn, has not been rescued, and there was no information yet about him.

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