Soldiers capture Muslim extremist encampment in southern Philippines

Soldiers captured another Muslim extremist encampment in the southern Philippines Wednesday, the third seized since they launched an offensive against the al-Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf group late last week, the military said. Gunmen allied with the Abu Sayyaf also struck a village on Jolo island with mortar rounds, triggering fresh sporadic clashes in the area, said Col. Domingo Tutaan, spokesman for the military's Southern Command. No casualties were reported. Tutaan said the camp seized by elite army Scout Rangers early Wednesday was the biggest of the three captured in the hinterlands of Indanan on Jolo, about 950 kilometers (600 miles) south of Manila. It housed fox holes, bunkers and a mess hall, he said, giving no other details.

Troops recovered spent shells for mortars and ammunition for automatic rifles. They later destroyed the bunkers and fox holes, he said.

Four marines have been killed and 12 other marines and 10 army soldiers wounded since a gunbattle erupted late Friday.

Tutaan said the military believes "dozens" of Abu Sayyaf gunmen have been killed, based on intercepted rebel radio messages and reports from villagers, but no bodies have been recovered.

Four mortar rounds fired by "lawless elements" landed in a village of Panamao town east of Indanan, Tutaan said without specifying who was responsible.

Areas around Panamao are known to be controlled by followers of jailed former Muslim separatist leader Nur Misuari, who signed a peace accord with the government in 1996.

The military has accused some of Misuari's followers of aiding the Abu Sayyaf, a charge that has been repeatedly denied by some of their leaders.

Tutaan said heavy rains on Jolo in recent days have slowed down the military offensive.

Jolo has been a stronghold of the Abu Sayyaf, which is blamed for numerous deadly bombings and ransom 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.

U.S. military counterterrorism training and equipment have been credited with the capture and deaths of dozens of Abu Sayyaf members and commanders, reports the AP. I.L.