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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 May, 2003, 13:14 GMT 14:14 UK
Fierce battle for Philippines town

Philippines security forces say they have regained control of a southern town after clashes with Muslim rebels left at least 22 people dead.

A military spokesman said six guerrillas, two soldiers, six policemen and eight civilians died in the fighting on Sunday in the remote town of Siocon on Mindanao island, about 500 miles (800 km) south of Manila.

The rebels had earlier taken 13 civilians hostage, including the wife and child of the local mayor, but the military spokesman said all but four of them had now been released.

The guerrillas say two of their men were killed and several wounded.

'Case of terrorism'

Several dozen rebels, alleged to be from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), launched the attack on Siocon, aimed at the town's main hall, a public market and a hospital at about 0200 on Sunday (1800 GMT Saturday).

Fighting raged for much of the afternoon between the rebels and local and government security forces.

"Every one of us ducked while bullets were fired everywhere," one woman told Reuters news agency.

"Then suddenly, a mortar landed near where we were hiding. It hit us including my poor grandson," she added.

The office of the town mayor was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, and three houses were also torched, a military spokesman said, describing the attack as an act of terror.

"This is a classic case of terrorism," military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero told the Associated Press news agency.

"They're creating an atmosphere of helplessness among the defenceless populace."


The BBC's John McLean in Manila says the raid was one of the biggest by the MILF since a ceasefire between the guerrilla group and the Philippines Government broke down in February.

It also comes as representatives of the government and the guerrillas are due to meet in the next few days in an effort to revive peace negotiations

The 12,500-strong MILF has been waging a 25-year insurgency against the Philippine Government, with the aim of establishing an independent Islamic state in the southern third of the country.

Despite a ceasefire signed in 2001 and a series of intense negotiations, the two sides have failed to come to a workable solution.

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