Four gunmen killed in hunt for Philippines militants

Four gunmen have been killed on a Philippine tourist island as government forces pursue remnants of an Islamic militant group behind a foiled mass kidnapping attempt there, authorities said Sunday.

The government said the dead suspects were stragglers from a boatload of southern Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf gunmen who sailed to the central island of Bohol early this month as part of a plot to kidnap tourists.

The raid had signalled an escalation of the kidnapping threat from the Abu Sayyaf, who are based on remote islands and also blamed for beheadings and deadly bombings.

"Terrorism has no place in the Visayas (central) region," said a joint military and police statement announcing the death of four of the suspected kidnappers in Bohol on Saturday.

Six other Abu Sayyaf members had been killed in earlier clashes on the island on April 11, when three soldiers and a policeman were also slain, the authorities said.

The military said they had been pursuing up to seven of the remaining gunmen.

Three suspects were still on the run after the latest clashes, they said.

"The remaining lawless armed elements who are strangers in the area have nowhere to go," the joint statement said.

"It could just be a matter of time before we can say that the threat (on Bohol) is totally eliminated."

Bohol police told AFP the fresh fighting erupted midday Saturday at a rice and coconut farming village near the town of Clarin, adjacent to the area of the April 11 clashes.

The Abu Sayyaf, made up of several hundred Filipino Muslim militants, is notorious for kidnappings, beheadings and deadly bombings. Its leaders have also pledged allegiance to Islamic State gunmen in Iraq and Syria.

The fighting in Bohol, about 800 kilometres (500 miles) south of Manila, caused a scare for the Philippines' important tourism industry.

The Philippines alerted Western governments after the military said it got wind of an Abu Sayyaf plan to raid central Philippine resorts during the Easter holidays and kidnap up to a dozen tourists.

This led to travel warnings being issued by the United States, Australia, and other countries.

Over the past year the Abu Sayyaf has been expanding its activities from the south where the military has been waging an offensive in recent months.

Its gunmen have been boarding commercial and fishing vessels and abducting dozens of foreign crew members, ransoming some of them off for huge sums of money, according to the defence ministry.