Philippine troops seize Muslim rebel camp, kill 30

MANILA, Philippines – Government troops seized a Muslim separatist rebel camp Saturday following three days of fighting that left 30 guerrillas dead, a Philippine military spokesman said.

A rebel spokesman denied any of its camps had been overrun.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front camp that was taken in southern Maguindanao province housed 20 bunkers that could accomodate about 200 fighters, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman for the army's 6th Infantry Division.

Troops recovered ammunition and four improvised explosive devices fashioned from 60-mm mortars, he said.

"This was also a bomb factory," Ponce told reporters in Manila by telephone from the division headquarters about 31 miles 50 kilometers from the fighting.

The camp was in a remote village in Guindulungan township and was ringed by four outposts with a big hall in the center, Ponce said. It also had foxholes linked to each other by trenches.

He said the rebels were "well-entrenched" and the army had to pound the camp with artillery, bombs and rockets before troops moved in for the final assault early Saturday.

Ponce said at least nine guerrillas were killed Thursday after fighting erupted and five soldiers were wounded. In all, 30 guerrillas were killed and more than 20 others were wounded, he said.

Rebel spokesman Eid Kabalu denied that a rebel camp had been seized, saying the area actually was a Muslim village. He also denied 30 guerrillas were killed in the fighting, saying only nine rebels had been wounded.

He said the 2003 cease-fire between the government and the 11,500-strong rebel group has been undermined.

"In principle, it is still there, but the actual situation on the ground — it is no longer existent. This is a state of war," he said.

The rebels have been fighting the Philippine government since the early 1970s. They had appeared on the verge of signing a formal peace deal with the government last year, until the Supreme Court blocked the agreement and rebel forces attacked civilian villages in response.

Ponce said the guerrillas they had fought with this weeks were believed led by one of the rebels commanders who ordered those attacks, which killed dozens of civilians last year.

Malaysian-brokered peace talks between the government and the rebels broke down last August following the attacks.

The preliminary agreement rejected by the Supreme Court would have expanded a Muslim autonomous region and was to have been part of a settlement of the decades-long struggle for Muslim self-rule.

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