The military today said government troops killed 18 Abu Sayyaf rebels and wounded 14 others in fierce fighting this weekend at the boundary of Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan towns in Basilan province. Two soldiers also were killed and 31 wounded in the fighting that broke out last Friday, military officials said. "[We] received reports about several casualties. I have talked to the military ground commander," said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Domingo Tutaan. He said government troops who took part in the 16-hour confrontation were not able to recover the bodies of the slain rebel fighters. Tutaan said the Abu Sayyaf usually retrieve their dead and bury them within 24 hours, in keeping with Islamic teachings. Government troops launched the operation against the Abu Sayyaf after the rebels tried to extort money from a company involved in the construction of a road in the province. Tutaan said soldiers are continuing pursuit operations. The military spokesman also denied reports that Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters helped the Abu Sayyaf. Tutaan, however, did not discount the possibility that former MILF members who have joined the Abu Sayyaf figured in the fighting. “These are individuals, not the organization," he said. The Front signed a peace agreement with the government last month, ending almost 40 years of fighting in Mindanao.
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