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Feb 27, 6:49 AM EST

5 Philippine soldiers killed in communist rebel ambush

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Communist rebels have killed five Philippine army soldiers and wounded six others in an ambush in a northern province, the military said Friday.

The soldiers were traveling in a convoy with police late Thursday when they were fired on by New People's Army guerrillas in Quirino township in Ilocos Sur province, said Capt. Mark Anthony Ruelos of the 7th Infantry Division.

He said government forces were pursuing the guerrillas.

Armed forces spokesman Col. Restituto Padilla said the rebels used civilians as human shields, preventing the ambushed troops from making an effective counterattack.

He said the rebels also fired at medical personnel trying to retrieve the bodies of the slain soldiers, but none was hurt. Padilla said both actions were violations of international humanitarian law.

The military estimates there are about 4,000 communist guerrillas operating mostly in small bands around the country, often conducting hit-and-run attacks against government forces or private security personnel to collect weapons.

Talks to end the 45-year-old insurgency, one of the longest-running in Asia, have been stalled since 2011 because of disagreements on the release of captured rebel leaders.

Rebels in the southern Philippines released two captured soldiers in December in a sign of goodwill to resume the talks, but there has been no word on when negotiations might be held.

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