Gunmen kill 3 soldiers, child in south Philippines

Heavily armed men opened fire on an army patrol near a sprawling university in the southern Philippines and attacked two nearby military outposts, killing three soldiers and a child in what appeared to be coordinated assaults, military officials said Thursday.

About a dozen soldiers were traveling on a truck near Mindanao State University in predominantly Muslim Marawi city late Wednesday when around 15 gunmen raked the patrolling troops with rifle fire. The soldiers returned fire and wounded several of the attackers, who fled after a 30-minute gunbattle, army Col. Daniel Lucero said.

Three soldiers were killed and 10 others were wounded, two seriously, along with three passing motorists, he said.

Other gunmen believed to be related to the attackers in the initial attack later fired at two nearby army detachments. A child was killed by sniper fire from the gunmen near one of the detachments, said Lucero, adding that troops were hunting down the attackers.

The gunmen were believed to be gangsters unleashed by politicians who wanted to harass the military for backing government and police efforts to prevent fraud in next year's congressional and local elections by cleaning up a list of voters long notorious for including non-existent, or "ghost," voters. The fraudulent practice has allowed politicians to ensure their hold on power for years, Lucero said.

The anti-elections fraud campaign in Marawi led to the recent exclusion of 24,000 suspicious names on the voters' list, angering corrupt politicians, he said. Since then, army troops have come under fire at least four times from unknown gunmen.

Marawi, about 810 kilometers (505 miles) southeast of Manila, lies in a volatile region with a long presence of Muslim guerrillas and other armed groups and a recent history of electoral fraud and violence.