SEVEN Philippine Army soldiers including a military officer were killed in an ambush by suspected communist rebels Friday at 11:45 p.m. in Bontoc, Mountain Province.

The group, of the 52nd Division Reconnaissance based at Saddle in Barangay Talubin, Bontoc, was on its way to conduct a medical mission in a nearby town scheduled for the weekend.

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Fatalities were identified as 1st Lt. Lito H. Punio of Mindanao; Sgt. Melchor Castro and Private First Class Camilo Topinio, both of Ilagan, Isabela; Corporal Cornelio Balmez of Pangasinan; PFC Antoni Bunagan of Tuguegarao; PFC Windez Gazingan and PFC James Tio-an, both of Kalinga.

The ambush is the latest attacks carried out by the New Peoples Army (NPA) rebels in the province, one of the areas of concern by the military's North Luzon Command.

The rebels carted away from the victims four M16 rifles and two M203 grenade launchers, among other firearms.

The presence of rebels in the boundaries of the province has long been a problem.

Both the Mountain Province Police Provincial Office and the military based in the province are now in full alert after the incident.

Cordillera police chief Villamor Bumanglag said police, for its part, will support the military in its pursuit operations.

Last month, four personnel of the Bravo Coy of the 54th Infantry Battalion, while they were on their way to Bontoc from Bauko, were wounded during the ambush by NPA rebels at Sitio Napu in Barangay Balitian. (Ma. Elena Catajan)