Muslim guerrillas kidnap two Christians in southern Philippines

Muslim separatist guerrillas kidnapped two Christian farmers in the southern Philippines, as the military said it killed several rebels in new clashes.

Fighters of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) raided the outskirts of Tupi town in Mindanao island on Friday, seizing two farmers and dragging them off despite the pleas of their families, said local military spokesman Major Julieto Ando.

"We still don't know what happened to them, but soldiers are searching for them," Ando said.

He suspects that the rebels may have abducted the men for refusing to pay extortion demands in the town 1,010 kilometers (626 miles) south of Manila.

MILF fighters also clashed with soldiers in the southern town of Kabacan 910 kilometers (564 miles) south of Manila on Thursday, leaving two dead guerrillas behind, said regional military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Lucero.

Lucero said intelligence reports indicated that as many as 16 MILF fighters were slain in the Kabacan clash although only two bodies were recovered.

MILF spokesmen could not be contacted for comment on the incidents.

The new clashes came despite an announcement on April 30 that the government and the rebels had agreed to resume formal peace negotiations toward a political settlement to the 25-year conflict.

The 12,500-strong MILF has been fighting to set up a separate Islamic state in the south of the predominantly-Roman Catholic Philippines.

It has launched a series of attacks on civilian targets since the military overran one of its strongholds near Pikit town in February.