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Philippine army clashes with Abu Sayyaf; 12 killed

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MANILA, Philippines >> Soldiers attacked al Qaida-linked Muslim militants at an encampment in the Philippines’ volatile south Thursday, and eight government troops and four rebels were killed in the fighting, the military said.

Army Maj. Gen. Ricardo Rainier Cruz said government forces struck in the morning after the military pinpointed an encampment of Abu Sayyaf militants blamed for past attacks in Basilan Island’s Sumisip township.

Sporadic fighting continued until afternoon, with reinforcement troops deployed.

Cruz said seven soldiers and four militants were initially killed.

Three government troops and two rebels also were wounded but one of the soldiers later died while being evacuated, raising the military’s death toll to eight, said army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc.

Officials said the militants belong to the same group that ambushed a truckload of rubber plantation workers in Sumisip two weeks ago. Five farm workers and one government militiaman were killed in that attack, while 22 others were wounded.

On Wednesday, the same group of militants attacked a military detachment securing the rubber planters’ cooperative but no soldier was killed or hurt, Cabunoc said.

Violence in the southern Philippines continues despite efforts by U.S.-trained Philippine forces to put an end to decades of bombings and ransom kidnappings by Muslim extremists in the predominantly Christian nation.

Philippine offensives have weakened the militants but they remain a threat. They are holding several foreign hostages, apparently to use ransom money to buy food and weapons.

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