Philippine troops killed three Abu Sayyaf gunmen in a clash with the al-Qaida-linked militants blamed for killing seven marines and wounding 26 others in a recent gunbattle, officials said Monday.
Army chief Lt. Gen. Arturo Ortiz said a soldier was wounded in Sunday's brief but fierce clash with about 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen in Patikul town in the mountains of southern Sulu province. Troops have been scouring the jungle area in search of the militants who killed seven marines in a July 28 clash, including two who were beheaded.
A Philippine military report said the militants withdrew and left behind one slain fighter near Patikul's Bungkaong village early Sunday. Two other militants were killed but their bodies were not recovered.
An angry President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the military to hunt down the militants involved in the July clash. At least 13 militants were killed in that battle.
Philippine military offensives backed by U.S. training and intelligence have weakened the Abu Sayyaf, which is blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization, but it remains a key security threat.
The group is notorious for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings over the last two decades.
Military chief Gen. Eduardo Oban said Monday that while beheadings have truly been "demoralizing and devastating on our part, we will never go down to such pointless savagery just to get even with our enemies."
"There is no place for barbarism in the noble profession of arms," Oban said at a ceremony marking International Humanitarian Law month. "In fact our profession demands that we remain as humane as possible even in the face of beastly and savage aggressor."
Human rights offenses have remained a concern but are now an isolated problem in the 120,000-strong military, which has adopted safeguards against violations, he said.