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Rebel land mine wounds seven soldiers in central Philippines

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (AP) – A land mine set by suspected communist guerrillas wounded seven soldiers in the central Philippines on Tuesday, in one of the insurgents’ first known attacks since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office last week.

Army troops were checking reports from villagers of anti-personnel mines laid by rebels from the New People’s Army, the Communist Party of the Philippines’ armed wing, along a village trail in Mapanas town in Northern Samar province when an explosion wounded the soldiers, regional army commander Major General Edgardo de Leon said.

Two of the wounded soldiers were in critical condition, he said, adding that no villagers were injured.

“Some of the soldiers were tossed away because the rebels have been using really powerful land mines,” de Leon said.

The government will file criminal complaints against rebel leaders for the attack and the use of internationally banned types of land mines, de Leon told reporters.

The soldiers were not able to open fire at the rebels, who fled after the attack and were being hunted by government forces, he said.

Last Friday, a day after Marcos Jr was sworn in after winning a landslide victory in a May 9 election, government troops assaulted eight communist rebels, killing one, in a brief gunbattle in central Negros Oriental province, the army said. Marcos Jr must deal with decades-long communist and extremist insurgencies.

During his campaign, he said he would pursue peace talks with communist insurgents and expressed support for a government task force established under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, to fight the insurgency by bringing infrastructure, housing and livelihood projects to the poverty-stricken countryside.

The task force has drawn criticism for linking several left-wing activists and government critics to the communist insurgency, in what Duterte’s opponents said was baseless “red-tagging” aimed at muzzling legitimate dissent.

Despite battle setbacks, infighting and factionalism, the communist insurgency has continued to rage, mostly in rural areas, for more than half a century in one of Asia’s longest-running rebellions.