MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine soldiers killed three communist rebels in a clash early Friday in a province north of the capital, bringing the number of guerrillas who have died in combat in the past month to at least 23, the military said.
The three New People's Army fighters were part of a 12-man team that clashed with soldiers in Dona Remedios Trinidad township in Bulacan province, said 703rd Brigade commander Col. Henry Sabarre.
The guerrillas fired on the troops as they approached to check reports by villagers of armed men in the area, about 70 kilometers (45 miles) north of Manila, Sabarre said.
He said bloodstains along the route taken by the guerrillas who fled indicated they suffered more casualties.
Sabarre's troops killed six high-ranking guerrillas in nearby Tarlac province last week, also following reports from villagers.
At least 14 other guerrillas have been killed in clashes around the country since last month. One soldier has died.
On Thursday, the rebels set off a land mine and wounded five soldiers in an ambush in southern Agusan del Sur province. The rebels withdrew after a 10-minute firefight, a local army spokesman said.
Norway-brokered talks on ending the 44-year rebellion, one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies, collapsed two years ago because of disagreement on the release of jailed Communist Party leaders. Recent efforts to revive the talks failed after the rebels refused to accept a cease-fire before any substantial agreement is reached.
Chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said last month that the military is on track to meet a target of eradicating the insurgency by 2016.
He said battle setbacks and surrenders have reduced the number of guerrillas to just over 4,000 armed fighters, down from a peak strength of about 25,000 in the mid-1980s. Bautista acknowledged the Maoist rebels remain a major security threat and have intensified attacks in recent months in the country's southeastern region.
The United States has included the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing on its list of terrorist groups.