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Philippines: 12 Killed in MILF Rebel Attack - 2003-04-24

Fresh violence has erupted in the southern Philippines Thursday after Muslim separatist rebels attacked police and military installations - killing at least 12 people.

Philippine military officials say at least 500 rebels from the separatist group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, attacked Army and police outposts along the highway between the southern towns of Kolambugan and Maigo.

Philippine Army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero, explains what happened: "After a brief encounter, the MILF rebels withdrew, and they chanced upon a bus at the vicinity and they tried to flag it down but the driver refused to stop," he said. "So they fired upon the bus."

At least 12 people were killed, including passengers of the bus that got caught in the attack.

Helicopter gunships were dispatched to chase after the fleeing rebels. Officials say the rebels may be holding several people hostage.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu claimed responsibility, saying the target was the military. "It is not intended against civilians," he said.

The MILF has been fighting for a separate Islamic state in the southern Philippine islands for more than 30 years. Clashes between government troops and the rebels erupted after a ceasefire agreement collapsed early this year.

The military has blamed the rebels for a number of terrorist attacks in the south, including two separate bombings that killed more than 30 people - a charge the group denied. The government has indicted more than 100 members of the MILF for murder in these incidents, but few of them have been taken into custody.

Attempts to restart peace talks last month between the two sides were not successful.