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Latest update : 2009-08-13

Heavy fighting between Abu Sayyaf militants and Philippine troops in the restive southern island of Basilan has killed at least 23 soldiers and more than 20 rebel fighters, a military official announced Thursday.

AFP - At least 23 government soldiers and more than 20 Muslim extremists were killed in a day-long clash in the southern Philippines, the commanding general said on Thursday.
The bodies of the 23 soldiers and 20 Abu Sayyaf rebels were recovered after fierce fighting Wednesday in the town of Ungkaya Pukan in the southern island of Basilan, said regional commander Major General Benjamin Dolorfino.
The fighting broke out as the military overran an Abu Sayyaf camp and found numerous home-made bombs, ready for detonation. They also recovered 13 high-powered firearms, the general said.
At least four wounded soldiers were seen being flown in by helicopter to the southern city of Zamboanga.
Soldiers who brought the dead bodies back to Zamboanga City said many of their slain comrades had apparently been hit by sniper fire.
Fighting has ceased but troops are still clearing the area to ensure no insurgents remain, Dolorfino said.
Soldiers are also still pursuing other Abu Sayyaf members, he added.
Intelligence agencies have said the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden helped in the formation of the Abu Sayyaf group more than a decade ago.
The group has carried out bombings and mass kidnappings in the south, mostly targeting Christians and foreigners. It has raised money by ransoming hostages but has also killed some when they were not paid promptly.
While the Philippine military has killed and captured many Abu Sayyaf leaders -- partly with US assistance -- the extremists remained active and in January they held three international Red Cross workers hostage for several months.
Two hostages were freed in April while the last hostage, Italian Eugenio Vagni was released on July 12 after nearly six months in captivity.

Date created : 2009-08-13