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Basilan clashes leave 14 dead

Army corners Abu Sayyaf group after a string of rebel attacks

A series of clashes between government troops and al-Qaeda-linked Muslim militants yesterday killed 10 soldiers and at least four rebels, in some of the bloodiest encounters the south of the country has seen in recent months.

The fighting began on the outskirts of  Sumisip town in Basilan province early yesterday morning, the military said.

Major-General Ricardo Rainier Cruz, commander of the army’s First Infantry Division, said scout rangers were sent in against members of the Abu Sayyaf terror group after the military learned of their camp’s location.

He said these were the militants who had launched several attacks in nearby Sapah Bulak village last week. One ambush killed five plantation workers on their way to work, along with a militiaman who was part of an escort detail for the workers.

“We traced their camp, thus the encounter,” the general said.

The initial battle left eight soldiers and four rebels dead, General Cruz said. Two other soldiers were ambushed and killed later, while heading to reinforce the area.

Unconfirmed reports say the militants' death toll had reached nine, with at least 17 soldiers and two militants wounded in the clashes.

Army spokesman Major Harold Cabunoc revealed the army had traced the militant camp following “an attack on a military detachment that was guarding a rubber plantation in Cabengbeng village,” on Wednesday.

Around 20 Abu Sayyaf militants had attacked the soldiers and militiamen in that incident.

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