Soldiers clashed with Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists on two islands in the southern Philippines, leaving 20 of the rebels dead even as fighting continued to rage, the military said Wednesday.
The latest and fiercest battle took place in Indanan town on the southern island of Jolo where troops, seeking to rescue Abu Sayyaf hostages, encountered about a hundred members of the Al-Qaeda-linked group, said Brigadier General Alan Arrojado, commander of the island's military task force.
Fifteen Abu Sayyaf were killed in the fighting as the military used artillery barrages to drive off the rebels' reinforcements, he told reporters.
There were no reports of casualties on the military side but a firefight is still going on in Jolo, Arrojado added. He made no mention of any of the kidnap victims.
On the nearby island of Basilan, about 890 kilometres from Manila, patrolling soldiers ran into a band of Abu Sayyaf fighters on Tuesday, sparking two days of clashes that left five extremists and one soldier dead, a military report added.
Both Basilan and Jolo on the country's southwestern tip, are known strongholds of the Abu Sayyaf, a loose band of several hundred armed men that was founded in the 1990s with seed money from the Al-Qaeda network of Osama Bin Laden.
The group often resorts to kidnappings for ransom, targeting foreigners when possible, sometimes beheading its captives if ransom is not paid.
Last week, the decapitated body of a village official kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf was found in Jolo.
The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding at least seven hostages, according to the military.
The group has also been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the country, including the firebombing of a ferry off Manila bay in 2004 that killed over 100 people.