20 MILF DEAD IN FAILED TAKEOVER OF MAJOR HIGHWAY  

Zamboanga City, March 14, 2003 -- At least 20 Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels were killed in a battle with government soldiers who successfully thwarted attempts to take control of a major highway in Aleosan, North Cotabato.

A regional Army spokesman Major Julieto Ando said fighting erupted when dozens of rebels tried to overtake a highway guarded by soldiers.

"At least 20 rebels are killed, but the MILF casualties could still be higher because many of their fighters are also wounded in the gunbattle," Ando told reporters.

He said three rebels, including a commander Edris Duma; and a soldier were also killed in Thursday fighting on Narciso Ramos Highway linking several towns in Maguindanao province, a known MILF stronghold in the southern Philippines.

Ando said there were no military casualties on Friday's clashes, but he said the fighting brokeout after MILF forces attack troops guarding the highway in Aleosan town."They attacked the soldiers and apparently wanted to take control of the highway, which is vital to trade and commerce in central Mindanao," he said.

Philippine authoroties have blamed the MILF, the country's largest Muslim rebel group, to the Mar. 4 bombing of an international airport in Davao City that killed 21 people and wounded more than 160.

Ando said soldiers have killed at least 191 rebels in clashes since March 10. But six soldiers were also killed and 7 others wounded in four days of clashes in the two provinces, where security forces overran a major MILF camp last month in Buliok, a complex of mountains used as hideout by rebel leader Salamat Hashim.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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