Philippine soldiers walk along a highway (Source: AFP)

Kuala Lumpur (VNA) - Three leaders and 18 gunmen of the Abu Sayyaf militant group have been killed in a clash with government troops in the southern Philippines.

Lt. Gen. Mayoralgo de la Cruz, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command (Wesmincom), confirmed the three slain leaders were Mohammad Said, Sairul Asbang, and Abu Latip.

In clashes in Patikul, Sulu province since August 26, 18 militants had been killed and 17 others had been wounded, the officer said.

Mohammad Said’s group was behind the kidnapping of three Westerners and a Filipino woman ub September last year.

The bandits killed two of the Westerners —Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall— after the Canadian government refused to pay ransom for the two men’s freedom.

Filipino Maritess Flor was released without ransom in June this year.-VNA