MANILA -- New People's Army (NPA) rebels ambushed a military truck in Bontoc town in Mountain Province shortly before noon Friday, killing all seven onboard, military officials said.

Colonel Eliseo Posadas, commander of the Army's 501st Brigade, said the soldiers came under attack shortly after leaving their command post in Bontoc around 11:45 a.m. to coordinate a medical mission scheduled for Saturday.

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Posadas said they were not that far from their command post when they were ambushed between Talubin and Samoki villages.

He said the rebels seized the firearms of the slain soldiers before fleeing.

Reinforcement troops backed by armored vehicles and sniffer dogs were pursuing the rebels in the mountainous area, he added.

"We're now searching the area to see if there were casualties on the enemy side," the military official said.

Earlier, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ordered the military to crush the rebels by the end of her term on June 30, but the rebellion has raged on past that deadline.

Peace talks stalled in 2004 after the rebels accused the government of instigating their inclusion on US and European terrorist lists. Norway, which brokered the negotiations, has been trying to revive the talks.

In a statement Friday, the Communist Party of the Philippines said guerrillas are willing to resume formal peace talks with the government of President Benigno Aquino III as long as it abides by all previous agreements.

But the party rejected a statement Thursday from Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin that rebels should first lay down their arms before talks can proceed. (VR/AP/Sunnex)