Philippine soldiers kill nine Maoist rebels in gunbattle

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine soldiers killed nine Maoist rebels in one of the fiercest clashes since peace talks to end nearly five decades of conflict broke down in May, an army spokesman said on Wednesday.

An army corporal was also slightly wounded in the 25-minute firefight in rural area of Nueva Ecija province, some 220 kilometers (137 miles) north of the capital Manila, army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Isagani Nato said.

Nato said the soldiers rushed to the village after receiving a report of armed men in the area.

Confronted by a band of around 15 guerrillas from the New People’s Army (NPA), the soldiers killed nine.

More than 40,000 people have died in the long-running insurgency, and peace negotiations have sputtered on-off.

Talks, brokered by Norway, resumed in August last year, days after President Rodrigo Duterte freed senior communist figures and militants. A ceasefire agreement held for almost four months.

But, Duterte suspended talks in January after rebels resumed and stepped up attacks on security forces, as well as on businesses in the countryside, including mines, plantations and construction companies.

In May, the president scrapped peace negotiations saying he will only agree to resume talks if rebels sign a negotiated ceasefire, and stop recruitment and extortion.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato: Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore