JOLO BATTLES: 3 SOLDIERS, 7 ABU SAYYAF KILLED  

Zamboanga City, Feb. 19, 2003 -- Three government soldiers and seven members of the Abu Sayyaf group were killed in fierce fighting Wednesday between security and rebel forces in the largely Muslim island of Jolo in the southern Philippines, the military said.

The military in Jolo said seven soldiers were also wounded in the fighting that broke out in the jungle village of Tanum in Patikul town after security forces stormed a rebel encampment.

Troops were battling more than 70 heavily-armed rebels under Radullan Sahiron. It was unknown if Sahiron was among those killed in the fighting, the military said.

The military said security forces were pursuing the rebels, whose group is holding three Indonesian tugboat crew members and four Filipino Christian preachers kidnapped last year in Jolo.

There were no reports about the fate of the hostages, but the military earlier said the seven are being held together in the hinterlands.

Government forces on Wednesday shelled suspected Abu Sayyaf hideouts in Patikul town as troops continue to advance to force the rebels out of their hideouts and into the open. The military said some of the guerrillas have splintered into smaller groups and have engaged soldiers in running gunbattle in the jungle.

On Tuesday, government forces also raided a rebel hideout in Bandang village in Talipao town and killed at least four Abu Sayyaf gunmen. One soldier was also gunned down by guerrillas, the military said.

The military said Tuesday fighting left a senior rebel leader Mujib Susukan seriously wounded. Susukan was one of those who raided the Sipadan resort island off Sabah, Malaysia in 2000 and kidnapped 21 mostly European and Asian holiday makers.

The United States have last year included the Abu Sayyaf on its list of foreign terrorist orgnization after it implicated the group to the kidnapping and killing of two US hostages in Mindanao. (Al Jacinto, PHNO Mindanao Bureau)


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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