Three soldiers and six Muslim militants were killed in the southern island of Jolo as fighting raged for the second day between troops and rebels holding captive three international Red Cross staff, the Philippine military said.
Eleven Marines were also wounded in the firefight in the town of Indanan. An undetermined number of guerrillas were also wounded in the fighting, including their leader, Commander Albader Parad.
General Nelson Allaga, a regional military commander, said troops were moving into an Abu Sayyaf camp in the jungles of Indanan but had not seen the hostages — Swiss Andreas Notter, Italian Eugenio Vagni and Filipino Mary Jean Lacaba.
He said soldiers found tents and books belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the area of fighting.
The discovery of the Red Cross items confirmed that the hostages were with the Abu Sayyaf when the fighting broke out on Monday, said Brigadier General Gaudencio Pangilinan, the military’s civil relations chief.
The guerrillas attempted to break through a military cordon set up to prevent them from moving their hostages off the island, prompting the military to fire at them, he said.
Pangilinan earlier said that Notter, Vagni and Lacaba were not in the area when the clashes broke out.
“Now we know that they are intact in one group, the Abu Sayyaf and the hostages,” he said. “There were no injuries to the hostages so far as of last report.”
The three Red Cross staff were abducted on Jan. 15 after they visited the provincial jail in Jolo, where they were overseeing a water and sanitation project.
In other news, electricity was cut in large areas of six provinces in the south after suspected separatist guerrillas blew up a key transmission line tower, officials said yesterday.
Crude bombs toppled a major transmission line tower in North Cotabato province late on Monday, snapping a 69KV cable supplying electricity to six provinces in Mindanao, army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Ponce said.
“There are strong suspicions that rogue members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front could be behind the latest attack on power facilities in the south,” he said, adding the tower was in an area where rebels operate.
Ponce said authorities were also checking reports that rebels have been targeting power facilities in the south to extort money to sustain combat operations against government forces.
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