MANILA, Philippines – Muslim guerrillas attacked a town and took hostages Sunday as they withdrew from fighting that killed four people, the military and rebels said.
The nighttime raid by about 100 members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (search) injured 26 people in the town of Siocon in the southern province of Zamboanga del Norte, officials said.
The guerrillas fired on houses, town hall, a hospital and public market -- then fought army troops, killing a soldier and wounding seven others, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Renoir Pascua. Police said at least seven civilians were wounded.
A rebel spokesman, Eid Kabalu, said two guerrillas were killed and 11 wounded.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said the guerrillas took 15 hostages, but soldiers recovered two and were trying to rescue the rest, including relatives of the town's mayor.
"This is a classic case of terrorism," Lucero said. "They're creating an atmosphere of helplessness among the defenseless populace."
Army helicopters chased the attackers into the hinterlands of Siocon (search), a predominantly Christian mountain town about 480 miles south of Manila.
Kabalu said the rebels would keep attacking unless officials meet their demands, including the return of a captured camp and withdrawal of criminal charges against their leaders.
"We hit where the enemy is weak," Kabalu told The Associated Press. "Our commanders assessed that weakness in Siocon and surprised them."
The Moro Islamic Liberation Front has been waging an insurrection in the Philippines' impoverished and volatile south for about three decades.
Malaysia's defense minister said Sunday that Philippine government negotiators plan to meet with separatist rebels in that country on Wednesday for exploratory talks aimed at restoring formal peace negotiations.
Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak (search) expressed hope that an exploratory meeting between the two sides in Kuala Lumpur will lead to an end to the fighting. Malaysia hosted several rounds of peace negotiations between government representatives and the MILF before talks stalled in 2001.
The U.S. government has provided the Philippine army with combat training and weapons to help tackle insurgents in the south.
U.S. and Philippine defense officials have been working out the terms of another round of U.S. military training in the southern Philippines planned for later this year.