Zamboanga City, Feb. 9, 2003 -- At least six Abu Sayyaf rebels were killed yesterday in fighting in Jolo island in the southern Philippines, bringing to 27 the death toll since last week, officials said on Sunday.

The clashes Saturday in Mount Dahu in Patikul led to the discovery of five more bodies near the town, said Southern Command chief Lt. Gen. Narciso Abaya.

Abaya, quoting reports from the Philippine Army in Jolo, said five rebels were also wounded in Saturday fighting. Troops intercepted some 100 Abu Sayyaf fighters trying to enter villages in seah for foods and medicines.

"Six are dead on the rebel side and offensive operation continue Sunday in Jolo. I told Army commanders to pursue and crush the Abu Sayyaf group," he told reporters.He said villagers secretly informed patrolling soldiers about the rebels in Patikul.

He said a total of 27 rebels and two soldiers have been killed in the fighting since last week.

Abaya said soldiers also recovered weapons left behind by rebels in Patikul town. "The rebels are now feeling the heat and they are running and hiding like rats, but troops will eventually catch up with them and they better surrender or be sorry," he said.

Army Brig. Gen. Romeo Tolentino, in-charge of government offensive, said soldiers discovered five more bodies of rebels near Patikul town. He said the five were killed by soldiers in clashes last Monday. At least 16 rebels were also killed in the clashes, he said.

"We believed many rebels were killed and wounded in the fighting, but their bodies were taken away by their companions, while others have been buried in shallow graves and we cannot desecrate these graves," Tolentino said.

Defense Secy. Angelo Reyes on Sunday lauded the military in its anti-insurgency campaign in the southern Philippines. "This is a victory of the people and a defeat of the Abu Sayyaf. The terrorists have no place in Jolo and sooner or later they will be destroyed," Reyes said.

Reyes also appealed to civilians to continue supporting the military by providing information about the rebels. "This is a battle against evil and we appeal for support," he said.

Guerrillas are still holding three Indonesian seamen and four Filipino Christian preachers kidnapped last year in Jolo island.

Troops last gunned down the chief suspect in the kidnapping of the Indonesians during a firefight in Patikul town. The military said the Indonesians Muntu Jacobus Winowatan, Julkipli and Pieter Llerich and the Filipinos are being held hostage by rebel leader Radullan Sahiron in Patikul, where soldiers killed Sarawi Mohd Jamal.

The military implicated Jamal in the June 17 kidnapping of the Indonesians. Jamal led the attack on the Indonesian cargo boat SM-88 off Jolo island while enroute to the central Philippines province of Cebu to deliver coal. The military said Jamal was arrested in Zamboanga City in 1998 on charges of illegal possession of weapons, but had been released for a still unnown reasons after four months in jail and then rejoined the rebels under Radullan Sahiron.

The Abu Sayyaf was founded in the early 1990s by Islamic firebrand Abdurajak Abubakar Janjalani, who was killed in a gun battle with police authorities on Basilan island in 1998. His youngest brother Khadaffy Janjanjalani took over his post as the self-styled Islamic fighters slipped into banditry and kidnappings. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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