September 4, 2006

Fighting in Philippine south, 14 dead, 77 wounded

By Manny Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) - Six Philippine marines and 8 Muslim
rebels were killed and dozens more were wounded in the heaviest
day of fighting in the latest campaign to flush out Islamic
extremists from a remote southwestern island.

A senior military official said on Monday that troops
stormed a mountainous area on Jolo island, where leaders of the
Abu Sayyaf group and two Indonesians suspected of carrying out
the 2002 Bali bombings, were believed to be hiding.

Abu Sayyaf's leader, Khaddafy Janjalani, is suspected of
sheltering Umar Patek and Dulmatin, Indonesian members of the
regional group Jemaah Islamiah, which is seeking an Islamic
superstate in parts of Southeast Asia.

"We believed that we had struck the main Abu Sayyaf group,"
Major-General Eugenio Cedo told reporters.

"We were told the high-value targets such as Khaddafy
Janjalani, Umar Patek, Dulmatin, Radullan Saheron and Abu
Solaiman were in the group that we've encountered."

Nearly 5,000 soldiers, backed up by U.S. equipment and
military advisers, have been battling more than 200 Abu Sayyaf
members and supporters since late July in a fresh offensive on

Manila, supported by Washington, wants to stop its remote
islands from being used as bases by Jemaah Islamiah and Abu
Sayyaf, which is blamed for the 2004 bombing of a ferry near
Manila that killed more 100 people.

Colonel Allan Luga, an officer at the military command
center in Manila, said six soldiers died and 21 were wounded in
nearly three hours of fighting.

Eight rebels were killed and 56 were wounded as helicopter
gunships fired rockets at their hideout, forcing them to flee
deeper into the mountains, Luga said.

It was the worst single day for fatalities since last
November when a previous offensive on Jolo killed nine soldiers
and at least 12 rebels.

The Philippines has lost 14 soldiers and police officers
while the rebels have suffered 18 fatalities since August.

Manila will this week resume peace talks with the Moro
Islamic Liberation Front, the largest of four Muslim rebel
groups in the southern Philippines, to try and end an
insurgency that has killed more than 120,000 people in nearly
four decades.