Philippines: 14 soldiers killed in gun battles

Hundreds of followers of a jailed former Muslim rebel leader battled government troops for a second day today on the Philippines’ southern Jolo island, in clashes that have killed 14 soldiers and wounded 16 others.

Hundreds of followers of a jailed former Muslim rebel leader battled government troops for a second day today on the Philippines’ southern Jolo island, in clashes that have killed 14 soldiers and wounded 16 others.

It was not immediately clear how many gunmen loyal to Nur Misuari have been killed or wounded in the fighting in Panamao and other outlying towns.

The clashes began yesterday when more than 500 of Misuari’s supporters attacked government troops following an assault on their stronghold near Panamao, where Abu Sayyaf guerrillas had allegedly sought refuge, said army Brig. Gen. Agustin Demaala.

Misuari’s followers said two children and their parents were killed in the military raid.

About 300 gunmen encircled and occupied an army company detachment in Panamao’s Siit village and seized a nearby hospital, which has since been retaken by army troops.

In the nearby town of Parang, about 80 suspected followers of Misuari attacked troops, killing a soldier and wounding two others. Some of the attackers were hurt when soldiers fired back.

Attackers also ambushed a military reinforcement team in Patikul, also near Panamao, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 14 others.

Jolo Governor Ben Loong said he was flying from Manila to his province, nearly 600 miles south of the capital, to help negotiate a halt to the fighting.

Misuari formerly headed the Moro National Liberation Front, a large Muslim separatist group that accepted limited autonomy and signed a peace deal with the government in 1996.

But violence flared again years later and Misuari was imprisoned on charges of rebellion, which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Many of his armed followers still maintain strongholds in Jolo. They have been accused of supporting the Abu Sayyaf, which has been loosely linked to al-Qaida.

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