Philippine marines clash with group of al-Qaida-linked rebels

Philippine marines clashed with a group of al-Qaida-linked rebels on southern Jolo island Tuesday, killing one militant in a security sweep ahead of joint exercises between U.S. and Philippine troops next month, the military said. The marines recovered an M-16 rifle from the slain militant following the brief clash in Jolo's mountainous coastal town of Patikul, a stronghold of Abu Sayyaf guerrillas, said Col. Domingo Tutaan of the military's Southern Command.

The other rebels fled deep into the jungle and were being pursued by the marines, who did not suffer any casualties, he said. Government troops have been trying to crush the rebels for years on Jolo in Sulu province, and have stepped up security patrols ahead of the arrival of at least 250 American soldiers for annual joint military exercises called "Balikatan," officials said.

Tutaan estimated there were a few hundred Abu Sayyaf rebels on Jolo, about 880 kilometers (545 miles) south of Manila.

The military exercises on Jolo will focus on humanitarian missions, including dental treatments and building classrooms. Joint maneuvers will be held simultaneously in the northern and central Philippines, officials said.

"The Balikatan in Sulu is part of our efforts to curb terrorism and to improve the security there," Tutaan said. "The idea is to build a community that is unfriendly to terrorists." The Abu Sayyaf, which is on a U.S. list of terrorist groups, has been blamed for deadly bombings and high-profile ransom kidnappings in recent years, reports the AP. I.L.

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