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Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said the fighting erupted at dawn Tuesday near Al-Barka town on Basilan Island when troops were investigating reports of rebel incursions, and that sporadic clashes continued late into the night in the remote region.

At least 12 soldiers were killed and 11 wounded, and 10 others were missing, he said.

Moro Islamic Liberation Front spokesman Von Al Haq said at least three rebels were killed in the clash. He said government troops provoked the fighting by attacking the rebels in their Al-Barka stronghold in violation of an existing cease-fire.

Army troops shelled the rebel stronghold after the initial clash, trapping villagers in the fighting, he said.