Powerful bomb in van kills at least 5 in south Philippines

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MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A Filipino soldier and four militiamen were killed by a powerful bomb that exploded in a van the troops were inspecting Tuesday amid threats of bombings in a southern province, military officials said.

Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Gerry Besana said two other government militiamen were wounded in the blast after dawn near an army militia outpost in the village of Colonia on the island province of Basilan.

Besana, who is based in southern Zamboanga city across a strait from Basilan, said he was trying to confirm reports that some civilians had died in the explosion, which he said happened despite a security clampdown due to intelligence reports of possible bomb attacks on military outposts.

Police said the blast occurred after militiamen flagged down the van at a checkpoint for inspection, although the report had limited details and it’s unclear what happened to the driver.

No group has claimed responsibility for the blast.

Regional military commander Lt. Gen. Arnel Dela Vega committed “every available resource under his disposal to identify the perpetrators in the soonest possible time.”

Government forces have been put on alert in the south, scene of decades-long Muslim separatist unrest, after President Rodrigo Duterte signed a new autonomy agreement last week with the biggest Muslim rebel group in the country.

The peace deal has been opposed by much smaller but violent extremist bands mostly linked with the Islamic State group.

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