POSTED: 2:01 p.m. HST, May 27, 2013
LAST UPDATED: 7:40 a.m. HST, May 28, 2013
MANILA » Communist guerrillas set off a roadside bomb and opened fire on a truck carrying police in the northern Philippines today, killing seven and wounding seven officers.
The members of the elite police Special Action Force were en route to a hospital for a regular medical test when the rebels, hiding in the bush along the road, detonated the explosive device and sprayed the vehicle with gunfire, said the regional police director, Chief Superintendent Rodrigo de Gracia.
Such hit-and-run attacks are common throughout the 44-year rural-based Marxist insurgency, which has claimed an estimated 120,000 lives.
Philippine security forces have been stretched thin by fighting communist rebels while also battling Muslim militants in the south. On Saturday, al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf guerrillas killed seven marines in a clash on Jolo Island in an operation aimed at rescuing six foreign and Filipino hostages.
The government recently suspended peace talks brokered by Norway after the communist rebels rejected an immediate cease-fire.
De Garcia said the police commandos returned fire but were overpowered by the rebels, who later fled with weapons from the slain officers.
The seven wounded managed to escape on foot and were rescued by government troops in the Ballesteros Municipal Hospital in Cagayan province, more than 250 miles northeast of the capital, Manila.
Troops set up roadblocks and dispatched reinforcements to track down the assailants, police spokesman Generoso Cerbo said in Manila.
The New People's Army rebels accuse successive Philippine administrations of subservience to U.S. interests and failing to improve the lives of the poor. Their numbers have dwindled to an estimated 4,000 fighters amid battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism. They are listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.
Chief government negotiator Alexander Padilla said early this month that the exiled rebel leader, Joma Sison, had himself proposed to fast track the talks by establishing a cease-fire and a committee with the government to discuss political and economic reforms. But Sison later backed off and blamed the government for the impasse.
In Saturday's clash in the south, seven guerrillas also were killed. Six marines and about 10 gunmen were wounded, marine Col. Jose Cenabre said Sunday.
Government troops backed by assault helicopters were hunting down the fleeing militants, who were believed to be led by Jul-Aswan Sawadjaan, an Abu Sayyaf commander accused in the kidnappings of a Jordanian journalist and two European bird watchers who are still being held by the militants.