Two gunmen were killed Monday as soldiers backed by helicopter gunships attacked the kidnappers of three teachers in the southern Philippines, the military said.
Two bodies, along with two Garand rifles, assorted grenades and ammunition, were found after Marines clashed with the kidnappers in a forested area near Akbar town on the southern island of Basilan, military officials said.
Speaking in Isabela, the capital of Basilan, local naval commander Commodore Alexander Pama said the Marines were continuing to pursue the armed men.
It was not clear where the group is holding the teachers.
Pama expressed alarm that the gunmen were seen wearing uniforms marking them as members of the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which had signed a ceasefire with the government in 2003.
He also said the gunmen were apparently heading for an MILF camp on Basilan island and appealed to the rebel group not to shelter them.
The military had previously said the kidnappers were believed to be rogue members of the MILF.
The abductors have demanded a six million-peso (130,000-dollar) ransom for the release of the teachers, who were seized on nearby Sacol island on January 23.
Kidnapping for ransom by pirates, armed groups and Islamic militants is a major problem in the southern Philippines.
On nearby Jolo island, members of the Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremist group are holding hostage a Swiss national, an Italian and a Filipina. They were abducted on January 15 while working on a humanitarian mission for the Red Cross.
Last weekend, a male Filipino midwife swam his way to freedom after escaping from his kidnappers on Basilan. On Friday, on Jolo, a 60-year-old baker was released after being held hostage for four days. It was unclear whether his family had paid a ransom.