The Philippine armed forces said Saturday that three suspected rebels were killed in a clash in the southern Philippines.

The military said fighting between the New People's Army (NPA) and the troops broke out on Friday on the outskirt of Butuan City in Agusan del Norte province.

The troops launched an operation in the area after local villagers reported the presence of the NPA rebels, according to the military.

NPA rebels have been fighting the government since 1969. They concentrate their attacks on rural areas and have skirmishes with the military.

Military data showed that the NPA is estimated to have 2,000 members, significantly lower than its peak strength in the 1980s.