Philippines Targets Extremists

Government troops killed three Muslim extremists Monday in the first clash since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared "all-out war" on the rebels a week ago, military officials said.

Gen. Romeo Dominguez, commander of the assault on the Abu Sayyaf band in the south, said one soldier was also injured as troops stormed a rebel hide-out before dawn Monday.

Dominguez said the remaining rebels fled the military assault, leaving behind dozens of assault rifles, machine-guns and some radio equipment.

Thousands of troops have been pursuing the Abu Sayyaf, thought to number 1,200, since April 2 when they first threatened to behead a U.S. captive as a "birthday gift" to Arroyo, who turned 54 on April 5. Arroyo responded with an order of "all-out war."

But soldiers say the guerrillas, who say they are fighting to create a separate Islamic homeland, have fled deeper into the jungles and mountains while many dropped weapons to blend in with the local populace.

Last Thursday, Abu Sayyaf leader Abu Sabaya backed off on his threat to immediately behead 25-year-old Jeffrey Schilling, an Oakland, Calif., resident held hostage since last August. But Sabaya warned he still might kill Schilling if the troops don't halt their offensive.

Military officials said the stay of execution will not halt their assault on the guerrillas on Jolo island, about 580 miles, south of Manila.

The Abu Sayyaf, the smallest of the three major insurgency groups in the Philippines, shot to international renown last year after seizing dozens of hostages, many of them foreigners, in daring raids. It released all but two hostages -- Schilling and Filipino dive resort worker Roland Ulla -- for reported multimillion dollar ransoms.

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