Philippine army major, two soldiers killed in rebel ambush

A Philippine army major and two of his men have been killed in an ambush by Muslim guerrillas opposed to peace talks, authorities said Tuesday.

The officer and two soldiers were in civilian clothing and driving an unmarked pickup truck when they were waylaid along a national highway on the southern island of Mindanao on Monday, regional military spokesman Colonel Dickson Hermoso told AFP.

"They were on a personal trip when they were halted and shot at," Hermoso added.

The Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters gunmen later stole the victims' wallets and laptops, the army spokesman said.

It was not immediately clear if the rebels attacked the group because they were army men or if they were randomly targeted for their valuables, he added.

A spokesman for the BIFF, Abu Misry Mama, confirmed the attack near the town of Datu Piang, saying the rebels opened fire because the victims tried to "evade arrest".

Hermoso declined to identify the victims, saying their families have yet to be informed of their deaths.

The BIFF split from the country's main rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in 2008 to press with its fight for a separate Islamic state in the mainly catholic Philippines.

The MILF signed a peace deal with President Benigno Aquino's government last March, paving the way for an expansion of the current autonomous Muslim region.

On Friday police said two people, including a girl, were killed in Pikit town, near Datu Piang, when the BIFF fired mortar shells at soldiers and police who were trying to arrest one of the group's leaders.