Suspected militants have ambushed a truckload of rubber plantation labourers in the southern Philippines, killing six people and injuring 22, following a day of fighting in which eight soldiers were wounded, officials say.
The army commander on Basilan Island, the militants’ stronghold, blamed Abu Sayyaf rebels linked to al-Qaida for the violence, which came despite efforts by US-trained Philippine forces to put an end to decades of bombings and ransom kidnappings.
Colonel Arthur Ang said the ambush targeted workers from a rubber plantation that refused to pay the militants’ extortion demands. The workers were travelling on a truck when the gunmen opened fire, killing five workers and one government militiaman, and wounding 22 others.
The government-armed militia providing security for the plantation fought off the attackers, Ang said.
The attack came a day after eight soldiers were wounded when their convoy ran over a homemade bomb in the same area near Sumisip township, said the military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Randolph Cabangbang.
He said troops were sent to guard voters who were registering for next year’s elections in an autonomous Muslim region that includes Basilan.
Abu Sayyaf militants have targeted the Basilan rubber plantation previously over ransom demands.
Three militiamen were killed in an ambush in April, and in 2010 the militants abducted and later killed three workers after they failed to collect a ransom.
A decade ago US troops were deployed in the southern Philippines to train Filipino soldiers to battle the Abu Sayyaf amid several high-profile kidnapping sprees and terrorist attacks.
Philippine government offensives have weakened the militants but they remain a threat and are still holding at least five foreign hostages, apparently in an attempt to raise funds for food and weapons in their jungle hideouts.