ZAMBOANGA, Philippines – Heavily armed men opened fire on a farming village in the southern Philippines and set homes ablaze, killing at least 14 people, officials said Thursday.
A separate bomb attack in an open market killed at least one person. Army spokesman Maj. Julieto Ando said the bomb in the town of Kabacan, in North Cotabato province, apparently detonated prematurely, killing a suspected bomber and wounding three civilians.
Officials suspected the Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels in the bombing and the village attack.
Three residents were wounded and three were reported missing during the raid Wednesday night in a village of Zamboanga del Norte, a predominantly Christian province south of Manila, military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said.
At least five houses were hit with grenades and M-60 machine guns were gutted by fire, police said.
Police Senior Supt. Marcelino Lipana said about 50 armed men burst into the village and ordered residents to assemble, then opened fire. The assailants fled, and the wounded were treated in a nearby district hospital.
Government troops were deployed to secure the village in a remote mountainous area and pursue the assailants, military and police officials said.
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has been waging a separatist struggle in the south for three decades, has a presence in the province about 600 miles southeast of Manila.
MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied MILF guerrillas were behind the attack and said the MILF will investigate the incident.
The attack follows a major government offensive last week that led to the capture of a sprawling MILF stronghold on southern Mindanao island. More than 140 people died, most of them rebels, according to the military.
On Wednesday, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo approved a draft peace proposal for the Muslim separatists. It calls for a permanent truce and the disarming of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in exchange for amnesty and government pledges of political reforms and development in impoverished Muslim areas.
But Kabalu insisted the government must first show sincerity before the talks could resume, including the withdrawal from areas captured last week.