MANILA, Philippines — Philippine government forces killed at least six communist rebels in the latest in a string of recent battle losses for the insurgents, the military said Wednesday.
Troops backed by police were checking reports about armed men in a village in Tarlac province's Camiling township late Tuesday when they were fired upon by New People's Army guerrillas, said army Col. Henry Sabarre. The fighting ended early Wednesday with six rebels, including one female, dead.
Sabarre said an earlier count of seven deaths was wrong.
One wounded guerrilla later came out of hiding near the clash site and surrendered to the soldiers, fearing he would die from loss of blood from his injury, said Brig. Gen. Hernando Irriberi.
Sabarre said the recovery of a machine gun and other high-caliber weapons indicated "a top (rebel) personality is in the area." The slain rebels were not immediately identified, he said.
The rebel band was part of a larger group that operates in Tarlac, President Benigno Aquino III's home province, and adjacent provinces, he said.
"We have been conducting a series of combat operations in these areas for so long now, side by side with our peace and development teams," he said. "At the end of the day, these insurgents will have no more room to hide and eventually fall into the hands of our law."
Military chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said early this month that government troops remain on track to meet a target of eradicating one of Asia's longest-running insurgencies by the time Aquino steps down in 2016.
At least 14 guerrillas, including a regional officer of the underground Communist Party, were killed in clashes earlier this month in the central and southern Philippines.
Separately Wednesday, the Maoist rebels freed five soldiers they abducted on June 17 in the outskirts of southern Davao city, regional military spokesman Capt. Severino David said.
The guerrillas turned over the soldiers to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who then brought the five to a military camp by helicopter. Families of the soldiers, who were seized as they were picking up food for a community feeding project, had appealed to the guerrillas to release them unharmed.
Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan said releasing the soldiers would not absolve the guerrillas of possible kidnapping and human rights violations charges.
Talks to end the 44-year insurgency, which has been fueled largely by rural poverty and injustice, have collapsed and the military has intensified counter-insurgency operations.
Recent efforts to revive the talks brokered by Norway failed after the rebels rejected an immediate cease-fire.
The rebels accuse successive Philippine administrations of subservience to U.S. interests and failing to improve the lives of the poor. Their numbers have dwindled from a peak of about 25,000 in the mid-1980s to an estimated 4,000 fighters amid battle setbacks, surrenders and factionalism. They are listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.