MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine military was chasing Al Qaeda-linked Muslim militants Friday, a day after a deadly clash with militants blamed for past attacks killed 10 soldiers and nine rebels, making for one of the bloodiest days in recent weeks in the volatile south.
Soldiers had attacked an Abu Sayyaf encampment early Thursday on Basilan Island's Sumisip township after locating the group believed responsible for ambushes on rubber plantation workers and military units who were providing their security, the military said.
The initial battle left eight soldiers and four militants dead, Army Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz said. The army sent more troops and sporadic fighting continued until the afternoon.
Later in the day, the militants fired at an army outpost in the same township, said Capt. Albert Caber, a local army spokesman. They then separately ambushed two groups of reinforcements sent to back up the forces there.
No one was killed at the outpost, but two soldiers were killed en route to the area, Caber said. He said due to "double counting" he earlier mistakenly reported that four soldiers had been killed.
Regional military spokesman Lt. Col. Randolph Cabangbang said that in all nine militants were killed in the clashes and villagers reported at least seven more were wounded.
While the fighting had subsided Friday, troops were "in pursuit" of the militants, Cabangbang said.
Officials said the militants belonged to the same group that ambushed a truckload of rubber plantation workers in Sumisip two weeks ago. Five farm workers and one government militiaman were killed then, and 22 people were wounded.
On Wednesday, the same group of militants attacked a military detachment providing security for the rubber planters' cooperative, but no soldier was killed or hurt, officials added.
Violence in the southern Philippines continues despite efforts by U.S.-trained Philippine forces to put an end to decades of bombings and ransom kidnappings by Muslim extremists in the predominantly Christian nation.
The Abu Sayyaf has received funding and training from al-Qaeda and is on a U.S. list of terrorist organizations.
Philippine offensives have weakened the militants, but they remain a threat. They are holding several foreign hostages, apparently to raise ransom money to buy food and weapons.