17 killed in latest clash in the Philippines


Army soldiers and Muslim extremist guerrillas clashed in the southern Sulu province of the Philippines, killing 17 people in the latest fighting.

Military officials say 16 Abu Sayyaf rebels and one soldier died in a battle in a forested mountain area.

They say 11 soldiers were also wounded in the clash which led to the fall of three rebel encampments.

Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu, who heads the military's Southern Command, says soldiers chanced upon about 100 Abu Sayyaf guerrillas.

It is not known if the rebels were with Ghalib Andang, an Abu Sayyaf chieftain who led the kidnapping of 21 Western tourists and Asian workers from the Sipadan dive resort in Malaysia in April last year.

The rebels brought their captives by speedboats to Sulu, detaining them for months before releasing most of them reportedly in exchange for huge ransoms financed by Libya.

Sulu is about 750 miles south of Manila.

The guerillas are holding about a dozen hostages, including an American couple, in nearby Basilan island. More than 7,000 soldiers are involved in an offensive against the rebels there.