Two troops dead, rebel camp overrun in Philippines

Two soldiers were killed in a firefight with communist guerrillas in the northern Philippines while in a separate clash police backed by helicopters stormed a rebel base near a mountain resort, officials said on Saturday.

Updated: Aug 31, 2013, 17:59 PM IST

Manila: Two soldiers were killed in a firefight with communist guerrillas in the northern Philippines while in a separate clash police backed by helicopters stormed a rebel base near a mountain resort, officials said on Saturday.

Up to 30 New People`s Army (NPA) gunmen fought a two-day gunbattle with police forces near the resort town of Sagada, said Chief Superintendent Benjamin Magalong, the regional police chief.

"We used two ground-assault aircraft to neutralise snipers and improvised explosive devices at their camp," he told in a telephone interview.

Sagada, which boasts caves, mountainside rice terraces and pine forests, is a town in the Cordillera mountain range that is popular with Western backpackers and local tourists escaping the tropical heat.

Magalong said civilians were in no danger during the fighting that ended yesterday.

However, two police special forces members were shot and wounded by rebel snipers on Thursday, leading to the decision to call in air support, Magalong said.

Elsewhere in the Cordillera, two soldiers were killed and three wounded in a separate firefight on the outskirts of Tabuk city on Thursday, an army statement said.

Cordillera police chief Magalong said the NPA camp that was overrun was a two-hectare training base hidden in a forest near the village of Aguid, at least four hours` hike from Sagada town centre.

All its defenders escaped, leaving behind guns, ammunition, improvised explosive devices, and documents, he added.

Sagada hotelier Karen Fiar-od told AFP residents learned about the fighting only from television and news websites.

"It`s far from here, and it had no immediate effect on the local tourism situation," she said, adding local hotels had few guests anyway since it is the middle of the monsoon season in the area.

Magalong said the rebel camp violated an informal agreement that made Sagada a "peace zone" off limits to military and guerrilla units but not police over the past two decades, an arrangement that ensured tourist safety.

About 180 NPA rebels operate across the Cordillera highlands, Magalong said.

The 43-year insurgency has claimed at least 30,000 lives by government estimate.

However, NPA ranks are down to about 4,000 fighters after some government successes, from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s.

AFP