Philippine rebel ambush leaves five dead: Army

MANILA - One Philippine soldier and four Maoist guerillas were killed during a brief firefight near one of the rebel group's last strongholds, the military said Tuesday.

New People's Army rebels ambushed a two-truck military convoy at a remote village road on the island of Masbate on Monday, sparking a brief gun battle, army spokesman Major Angelo Guzman told AFP.

"Our troops fought back and reversed the tide, resulting in more casualties on the rebel side," he added.

The surviving members of the rebel band fled, leaving behind the remains of four dead comrades, according to Guzman.

One soldier was killed and three others were wounded during the clash, he said.

The impoverished island of Masbate is one of the few remaining areas where NPA forces continue to attack government troops and fleece civilians.

The spokesman said the rebels had been more active in recent weeks as they attempted to project a strong image ahead of next year's general elections.

During previous elections, local candidates were not allowed to campaign in rural areas near NPA strongholds unless they paid "revolutionary taxes" to the group.

The 4,000-strong NPA has waged a guerilla campaign for 46 years, which has claimed tens of thousands of lives, largely in rural areas mired in poverty.

Peace negotiations have stalled under President Benigno Aquino as the government has refused to grant the rebels' demand to free a number of their captured leaders who are facing criminal charges.

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