Philippine troops capture an al-Qaida-linked extremist group's camp

Philippine troops have captured an al-Qaida-linked extremist group's camp, but bad weather has slowed down an offensive against fleeing Islamic militants that has cost the lives of at least four soldiers, the military said Tuesday.

Troops pursuing the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas reported they recovered ammunition for rockets, mortars and grenade launchers from the camp near Indanan on Jolo island late Monday, said Southern Command spokesman Col. Domingo Tutaan.

The military reported four marines have been killed and 12 other marines and 10 army soldiers wounded since a gunbattle erupted late Friday followed by sporadic clashes. There were no encounters reported Tuesday.

Tutaan said there were no confirmed casualties on the rebel side and no bodies were found at the camp, only bloodstained backpacks and personal belongings.

He said soldiers later destroyed several bunkers and trenches in the encampment.

Brig. Gen. Alexander Aleo, Jolo military commander, said heavy rains were affecting the offensive.

Aleo said the Abu Sayyaf gunmen were allegedly aided by followers of jailed former Muslim separatist leader Nur Misuari, who signed a peace accord with the government in 1996.

Armed forces spokesman Col. Tristan Kison told reporters in Manila that the dense jungle on Jolo, where visibility is often limited to 10 meters (yards), also is hampering the operation.

Social welfare officers reported hundreds of villagers have fled the fighting, in which a man and his wife were wounded by shrapnel, the only civilian casualties reported so far.

Jolo, about 950 kilometers (600 miles) south of Manila, is a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which has been blamed for deadly bombings and kidnappings. The group is believed to be allied with the regional terror network Jemaah Islamiyah, which has been blamed for the Bali bombings in 2002 and last month. I.L.

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