holding several hostages, including a US missionary couple and a Philippine nurse on southern Basilan Island, a military spokesman said.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted Army Captain Noel Detoyato as saying that the fighters were killed in a "three-hour clash" which broke out early Tuesday on the Philippines’ Basilan Island in Kumalarang village near Latawan town.

There was no immediate press reaction from Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al Qa’ida network of Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Detoyato said that one soldier was wounded in the clash and that he was treated by US and Philippine military doctors in a military hospital in nearby c.


It was not clear if the latest clash was part of an operation to rescue the hostages who were abducted from an island resort in central Philippines in May last year and taken to the guerrilla stronghold on southern Basilan.

There has been international concern about the health of especially the missionary couple, Martin and Gracia Burnham of New Tribes Mission who are believed to be under pressure to give up their faith in Christ.

Earlier this year they cried out for help in America’s television program 48 Hours. In that interview Gracia Burnham said she and her husband "have scores in their mouths and on their legs" from poor nutrition and that she wakes up with chest pain.

In other video footage released by the Reuters news agency in March, Martin Burnham made clear that their captors will continue their battle and that they are targeting not only Americans but also other Westerns, including Europeans.


Despite these apparent set-backs, the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has pledged to crush the Abu Sayyaf, which is fighting for an independent homeland.

Joint Philippine-U.S. counter terrorism exercises are continuing in the southern Philippines aimed at crushing the Abu Sayyaf, according to BosNewsLife correspondent Noel Tarrazona, who is closely monitoring the situation.

A spokesman for a left-leaning group said in a statement that the ongoing joint exercises are "setting a dangerous precedent for direct U.S. involvement in internal Philippine affairs."

Teddy Casino told Kyodo that the exercises "opened the door for open-ended and indefinite military actions short of a U.S. invasion of (Philippines) shores."

An international peace delegation of parliamentarians, social activists and scholars from Europe, Asia and the U.S. is due to visit Zamboanga and Basilan on Saturday, Kyodo said.


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