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Philippine officials say army troops and police kill 13 suspected criminals in gunbattle

Philippine army special forces and police killed 13 suspected criminals in a fierce gunbattle Sunday on the main northern island of Luzon in the latest violence to erupt in the country in the last week.

A police officer was wounded in the shootout, which took place in the coastal town of Atimonan in Quezon province, about 140 kilometers (100 miles) southeast of Manila, the capital.

The gunmen, who were riding in two black SUVs, opened fire on about 50 army soldiers and police when they were flagged down at a highway checkpoint in Atimonan, sparking the firefight, said Lt. Col. Monico Abang, who led the army platoon in the clash. Gunmen also fired from a third van but turned around and managed to escape, he said.

Quezon provincial police chief Valeriano de Leon said 11 gunmen died at the scene of the clash. Two others died while being brought to a hospital, he said, adding that government forces recovered two assault rifles and eight pistols used by the gunmen.

"They rolled down their windows and started firing, so we had to retaliate," Abang said by cellphone from the scene of the clash. "They were clearly outnumbered and outgunned."

A police colonel was shot in the hand and foot and taken to a hospital, de Leon said.

Abang said the army and police set up a checkpoint along the highway after police received a tip-off from an informant that gunmen involved in illegal drugs, gambling and kidnapping for ransom would pass through Atimonan.

The shootout followed two other violent incidents that have revived calls for tighter gun control in the country. A man who reportedly was drunk and high on drugs killed eight people before being gunned down by police Friday in Kawit town in Cavite province, 16 kilometers (10 miles) south of Manila.

A 7-year-old girl died a day after being hit in the head by a stray bullet while watching fireworks with her family on New Year's Eve outside their home in Caloocan city, near Manila, despite a high-profile government campaign against powerful firecrackers and celebratory gunfire by Filipinos to welcome 2013.