Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Battle Rages On Philippine Island

The Philippine army is battling Muslim rebels who it says are making a "last stand" after a week of clashes on the southern island of Jolo.
Up to 12,000 people have fled the fighting which has left about 90 soldiers and rebels dead. The rebels are from the al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group along with followers of the jailed militant, Nur Misuari. Between 4,000 and 5,000 troops are fighting 800 militants in the heaviest fighting for years. The fighting began last Monday. An Abu Sayyaf leader, Abu Solaiman, told a radio station it had joined forces with the Misuari followers to avenge the death of a couple and their son who were killed by troops. The military says it returned fire after the couple shot at soldiers. The rebels then attacked troops at an army base, killing 30, including the battalion commander, the military says. The government flew in reinforcements, including US-trained counter-terrorist troops, and said the army has killed more than 60 rebels in heavy fighting. Three more soldiers were killed on Sunday as they pursued the militants, the army said. Abu Sayyaf has been involved in a number of kidnappings and bombings. It was blamed for sinking a ferry in Manila Bay last year, killing more than 100 people. Although the Jolo fighting is the worst since Misuari's uprising in 2001, the military has never been able to bring Jolo under full control. The rebels hold much of the island with support from many of the residents.