MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - At least 22 terrorists and rebels were killed in clashes Sunday between Abu Sayyaf and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Sulu province, a Philippine military official said Monday.
Marine Col. Orlando de Leon, commander of the Sulu-based marine brigade, said 14 Abu Sayyaf and 8 MNLF rebels died during a 3-hour firefight in Patikul township, citing unverified information that reached the military.
The military said fighting between 250 Abu Sayyaf and 300 MNLF rebels broke out around 8 a.m. Sunday.
De Leon said the rival rebel groups had not left bodies at the scene of the firefight.
Tension lingered Monday in Barangay Vabbun, Takas in Patikul amid the deadly clashes.
Habib Hashim, chairman of the MNLF's Islamic Command council, confirmed the outbreak of violence between the 2 groups.
He said the Abu Sayyaf even beheaded some of his people.
"The latest information that I received is 16 killed in action on the side of the Moro National Liberation Front and what is disturbing is, 7 of them have been beheaded by the Abu Sayyaf," he said.
The conflict started after negotiations for the release of Abu Sayyaf hostages failed.
This prompted the MNLF, a group of former Muslim rebels who have made peace with the government, to attack jungle bases of the Abu Sayyaf to free Jordanian Baker Atyani, said Antonio Freyra, a police chief in the area.
Atyani, a journalist working for the Al Arabiyah network, and his 2 Filipino television crew members were taken captive in June while reporting in the area.
Amid the fighting, the Abu Sayyaf left behind the 2 Filipino cameramen.
Authorities said they could not say if ransom was paid for them.
"We have no information on the fate of the Jordanian journalist," Freyra added.
Army spokesman Col. Arnulfo Burgos said the military was not involved in the rescue bid but sent troops to help evacuate residents who fled from the area and to prevent the fighting from spreading.
About 60 families in the Patikul area were relocated temporarily because of the clash, he said.
"Right now there is no fear for a spillover because the clash is occurring in a specific isolated area. Majority of occupants are either part of ASG or MNLF," Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
Jolo island in the Philippine south is a stronghold for the Abu Sayyaf rebels who are notorious for kidnappings and some times killing captives.
The militants are also holding an Australian, one Swiss, one Dutch and one Japanese person on Jolo and nearby Basilan islands. - with reports from RJ Rosalado and Jewel Reyes, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga; Kyodo News; Reuters