Six dead as Philippine troops battle extremists in tourist island

Military officials said at least five gunmen, three soldiers and a policeman had died in the ongoing gunbattle in a village in the coastal town of Inabanga in Bohol province.

The clashes occurred days after the USA embassy warned Americans against travelling to Cebu and Bohol due to an "unsubstantiated yet credible information" of terror threat in the area.

The Abu Sayyaf is known to target foreign tourists for its kidnap-for-ransom activities. "There's a checkpoint everywhere", Guimalan told AFP by phone from the Panglao tourist area, where she said hotels were fully booked until next week.

"But sadly, three on the government side were also killed while two others were wounded". "We cannot just ascertain the exact date as to when the Abu Sayyaf group will hatch their plot", Petinglay said.

The clash between the army, who have now received reinforcements from the Philippine Marines and Air Force, and the armed group was still underway, and the casualty might rise, said the Armed Forces in a statement.

Security forces have been on alert for "potential activity on the part of some lawless elements" during the peak Easter tourist season, military spokesman Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla said.

Bohol island, where one of the world's smallest primates, called tarsiers, are found, drawing many tourists, lies about 640 kilometers (397 miles) southeast of Manila.

In a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City, AFP Public Affairs Office (PAO) chief Marine Colonel Edgard Arevalo, said the firefight took place at Sitio Ilaya, Barangay Napo, Inabanga, Bohol, at about 7 a.m.

A clash broke out as police went to investigate early this morning, Melicor added.

"I am very disappointed that these elements coming out of nowhere are trying to destroy the lives of people living in peace", Mr. Chatto told AFP.

Dela Rosa said the armed men may be members of the Abu Sayyaf because of how they operated: arriving in the area aboard boats.

"We are clearing the area", said Aguilar but did not give a timetable.

This is the furthest the Abu Sayyaf has been sighted from Sulu, suggesting that navy patrols in waters separating Sulu and Sabah in Malaysia may be forcing the group to venture further into central Philippines.

In late February, Abu Sayyaf executed a German hostage after its deadline for a $600,000 ransom expired. The military has been engaged in large-scale offensives with Abu Sayyaf but progress has been hampered by the presence of civilians in its strongholds in Jolo and Basilan islands.

  • Joanne Flowers