ZAMBOANGA (Philippines) Oct 27: Five members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim kidnapping group were killed and two soldiers wounded in clashes in the southern Philippines island of Jolo on Saturday, the military said.
The clash came as military officers in the nearby southern island of Basilan prepared to welcome members of a US military advisory team that will assess the Philippine troops’ campaign against the rebel kidnapping gang.
Troops encountered a 35-man Abu Sayyaf band in Talipao town before dawn and killed five of them, Lieutenant Colonel Alberto Gepilano, spokesman for an anti-Abu Sayyaf task force, said.
The soldiers later overran an Abu Sayyaf camp, sending the rest of the rebels fleeing.
The Abu Sayyaf gang, believed to have links with Osama bin Laden, has been the target of a massive military operation following a new kidnapping spree.
Abu Sayyaf rebels in Basilan island are still holding two American and nine Filipino hostages who they kidnapped in May. The guerrillas have already killed one American and more than a dozen Filipino captives.
Their counterparts in Jolo kidnapped dozens of foreigners and Filipinos last year, ransoming many of them for huge amounts of money.
Regional military chief Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu said that the military forces in Basilan have been concentrating on a patch of jungle in the island where the Abu Sayyaf are believed to be hiding with their hostages.
“We have a strong probability of contact any time,” Cimatu said.
The general said he invited the American advisers to see the “cruel terrain” of Basilan that has prevented local troops from crushing the Abu Sayyaf despite a six months search.
Military sources in the south said some of the 23 US military advisers who arrived in this southern city in recent days were scheduled to travel soon to Basilan.
Military officials said the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan had split into smaller groups and had run short of supplies, forcing them to forage for food as the military closed in on them.
The Americans were sent to the south to assess the Philippine military’s campaign against the Abu Sayyaf.
Military sources said the Americans had brought specially-trained dogs with them but it was not clear how they would be used.
Government officials have stressed that the Americans will not take part in the operations against the Abu Sayyaf and will be kept from the frontlines.—AFP