Abu Sayyaf rebels kill soldier


ZAMBOANGA, Philippines (AP) - Philippine troops clashed with Muslim guerrillas Wednesday in a mountain rain forest, in a running gunbattle that killed a soldier and injured two others, an official said. 

Several of about two dozen Abu Sayyaf rebels were believed to have been hurt in the fighting at dawn in the southern Basilan island's Tuburan town, said army Col. Bonifacio Ramos. 

Army troops, backed by two helicopters, were pursuing the fleeing guerrillas but were being hampered by thick vegetation and clouds, he said. 

One of three army units checking reports of armed men in the mountainous outskirts of Tuburan were fired upon by the guerrillas in a brief clash that wounded two soldiers, Ramos said. 

A helicopter brought the wounded to a hospital. 

The two sides sporadically exchanged fire through a forest and a coconut grove. 

Ramos said a soldier was killed when the guerrillas fired a rocket-propelled grenade. 

A U.S.-backed offensive last year has been credited with decimating the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked by officials to the al-Qaida terrorist network. 

American and Filipino defense officials are preparing for joint counterterrorism training exercises aimed at wiping out a remaining Abu Sayyaf faction on nearby Jolo island. 

Ramos said that U.S. military training and weapons would help Filipino troops finish off the rebels. 

"We can do the job but with more training and special equipment like night-vision goggles and GPS (global positioning system), we'll become better fighters,'' he said. - AP 

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