Clashes erupt in central Philippines before President visit

By Xinhua,

Manila : Clashes broke out between rebels and government troops Tuesday in the Philippines’ central province of Masbate and one Army soldier was killed ahead of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s arrival there for a Cabinet meeting, military officials said.

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The latest firefight erupted at 10 a.m. local time (0200 GMT) when patrolling elements of the 9th Infantry Battalion chanced upon 20 New People’s Army (NPA) rebels in a Villafuerte village, about 50 kilometers from the Placer town, where President Arroyo was scheduled to convene a Cabinet meeting, Philippine TV network GMA News reported, quoting Capt. Leah Santiago, Spokesman for the Armed Forces Southern Luzon Command.

The fatality was identified as a certain Sgt. Gonzales. No casualties on the rebel side were reported.

Earlier, at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday local time (1145 GMT Monday), some soldiers on board a civilian vehicle were fired at by an undetermined number of suspected NPA rebels in a Mobo town, said another Army official Christopher Morales.

Morales said no casualties were reported on both sides, even as the troops immediately returned fire against the ambushers.

The town is located about 90 km away from the Placer town.

The meeting there was slated to discuss updates of rehabilitation in areas battered by Typhoon Fengshen and reports from a task force investigating the capsizing of an inter-island vessel on June 21 at the height of the storm.

Vice President Noli de Castro and several Cabinet officials were flown to the Placer town in Masbate province for the meeting after the military clashes.

Military officials said they could not tell whether the clashes were related to President Arroyo’s visit.

The President has issued an order to terminate the left-wing rebels’ nearly four-decade-long guerrilla campaign by the end of her term in 2010.

Earlier on the same day, a landmine explosion occurred in Placer town. No one was injured in the blast.

The explosion was caused by a vintage bomb that was intentionally detonated by still unidentified persons, said another report. Police are still investigating the incident.

Government troops composed of the military, police, and the Presidential Security Group have beefed up security for the meeting in the Placer town following the incidents, officials said.