Nearly 160 inmates have escaped after suspected Muslim rebels attacked a jail in the southern Philippines and at least six people were shot dead as government forces traded fire with gunmen.
Acting Provincial Jail Warden Superintendent Peter John Bongngat Jr. said a guard was killed and an inmate was wounded in an initial gunbattle when dozens of gunmen stormed the North Cotabato District Jail in Kidapawan in one of the country's largest jailbreaks in recent years. Kidapawan city in Cotabato Province is about 930km southeast of Manila.
Bongngat and Kidapawan police chief Superintendent Leo Ajero said gunfire continued for hours after the attack as army troops and police, some in armoured tanks, hunted through the surrounding forests for the 158 escaped inmates and the gunmen who freed them.
Bongat said the heavily armed attackers were suspected to include members of the outlawed Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters and guerrillas who broke away from the main Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has signed a peace deal with the government.
Of the six killed, at least five were escapees, while another six were recaptured, officials said.
The jail held more than 1500 inmates, including Bangsamoro members facing murder charges for a series of bombings in the province, officials said. It was the third attack in the provincial jail facility since 2007.
Local village leader Alexander Austria told The Associated Press that he and his men captured one escapee.
He said the gunfire woke his village, which was several kilometres from the prison, and he immediately posted guards because of fears the attackers and escaped inmates could enter the village.