MANILA (AFP) - Fifteen suspected communist guerrillas including six women have been killed in a gunbattle, the Philippine military said on Wednesday (Nov 29), days after President Rodrigo Duterte called off peace talks.
Mr Duterte last week vowed to go to war with the rebels and threatened to categorise them a "terrorist" group over deadly attacks against soldiers and police.
Late Tuesday residents reported seeing armed men boarding a van and a truck in the town of Nasugbu 65km south of Manila, prompting authorities to send troops, said local military spokesman Colonel Teody Toribio.
When soldiers tried to flag down the vehicles on a highway, a gunbattle broke out that left 15 suspected guerrillas dead, including a female university student, while five soldiers were wounded, added Mr Toribio.
One suspect was captured while an undetermined number escaped. Thirteen firearms were recovered, he said.
Regional military chief Brigadier General Ernesto Ravina said the operation was "anchored on the pronouncement of the president on the termination of peace talks".
The Communist Party of the Philippines has been fighting since 1968 to overthrow a capitalist system that has created one of Asia's biggest rich-poor divides.
Talks to end the conflict, which the military says has claimed 30,000 lives, have been conducted on and off for three decades.
They were revived last year after Mr Duterte - a self-declared socialist - was elected president.
But the fiery Mr Duterte steadily backed away from the talks, accusing the guerrilla's 3,800-member armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), of carrying out attacks despite his peace efforts.
One of the fatalities in Tuesday's clash was identified as a student of the premier state university. Mr Toribio told AFP the military believed she was an NPA member and the suspects had been under surveillance for some time.
"What is she doing in a vehicle with those weapons of war?" Mr Toribio said.
"We are 100-percent sure about them (being rebels)."
However CPP founder Jose Maria Sison said troops may have committed human rights violations.
"There are many cases now of killings. There are quick accusations that the victims are NPA rebels when in fact they are civilians," Mr Sison told ABS-CBN television on Wednesday from exile in the Netherlands.