MANILA • Three Islamic militants were killed after the Philippine military launched a second attempt in two weeks to rescue hostages held by the Abu Sayyaf rebels, the army said.
About 300 Abu Sayyaf fighters retreated after the hour-long exchange of fire yesterday in the jungles of the remote southern island of Jolo, said Brigadier-General Alan Arrojado, the military commander in the area.
However, the military did not say if any of the hostages were freed or injured in the clashes, or how many hostages were believed to have been held at the rebel camp. Ten Philippine soldiers were wounded in the fighting, the general added.
"The bandits positioned their hostages in the back (of the rebel camp), they didn't want another escape," said Captain Antonio Bulao, a military spokesman in Jolo.
Last week, two Philippine Coast Guard officers who were among 11 hostages held by Abu Sayyaf escaped during fierce clashes which erupted after elite military forces launched a risky rescue effort, leaving 15 Abu Sayyaf men dead.
The militants have since split into smaller groups, each holding some hostages, Capt Bulao added.
The rescue attempt came after the decapitated remains of a 12th hostage, Mr Rodolfo Boligao, were found on a deserted Jolo highway on Aug 11. Impoverished Jolo is a known stronghold of Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of several hundred armed men set up in the 1990s with seed money from the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.
The group engages in kidnappings to finance their operations, often targeting foreigners and sometimes beheading captives if ransoms are not paid.
It has also been blamed for the worst bomb attacks in the country.