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Philippine army seizes Muslim rebel camp, kills 30

PHILIPPINE troops seized a major Muslim rebel base in two days of fighting on a restive southern island, killing 30 guerrillas and wounding 20, an army spokesman said today.

Soldiers found dozens of bodies inside concrete bunkers and discovered a large cache of weapons, munitions and explosives at the rebel base near Guindulungan town, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Ponce told reporters.

Fighting across oil and gas-rich marshlands and nearby hills on the southern island of Mindanao has escalated in the last six weeks and displaced more than 50,000 families, pushing back prospects of peace talks stalled since August 2008.

"Based on our initial report, our troops have accounted for 30 killed rebels on the ground," Ponce said, adding mangled bodies were found in semi-concrete bunkers hit by artillery and cluster bombs dropped from planes.

"We bombed their positions. We fired rockets until early this morning before soldiers entered the rebel encampment, which could accommodate about 200 rebels."

About 20 guerrillas were also wounded, based on electronic and radio communications intercepted by the army, Ponce said.

The military said only five soldiers were wounded in nearly 48 hours of heavy fighting near Guindulungan town in Maguindanao province.

Ponce said nearly 20 rebel bases had been captured since the army launched operations in late last year to punish rogue Muslim rebels blamed for attacks on Catholic-dominated towns in North Cotabato and Lanao del Sur provinces on Mindanao island.

Renegade members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the country's largest Muslim rebel group, went on the rampage after peace negotiations between the government and rebels collapsed in August 2008.

Nearly 600 people have been killed since then, many of them civilians caught in the fighting. About 2,000 houses in Maguindanao province alone have been set on fire.


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