Philippine helicopters hit by ground fire: military

Two helicopters carrying senior Philippines military officials were hit by ground fire while flying low over the island of Basilan Sunday, forcing an emergency landing, the army said.

Two videographers for state television were slightly injured in the rough landing but none of the official party, which included a general, were hurt.

The party was on its way to the town of Ungkaya Pukan to check on military operations against the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group, four days after fierce clashes on Basilan left 23 soldiers and 21 militants dead.

"The choppers… were flying lower over Lamitan (town) when it came under fire," military spokeswoman Lieutenant Steffani Cacho said, adding the aircraft were hit by fire from automatic rifles.

"We still don’t know who was behind the attack, but it could be the Abu Sayyaf or Moro (Muslim) rebels."

The attack came after President Gloria Arroyo on Saturday ordered the "annihilation" of the Abu Sayyaf in the wake of Wednesday’s fighting.

She also warned another rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), that they would be hunted down for their alleged involvement in the clashes.

The government was supposed to resume peace talks with the MILF in Malaysia this month, and it was not clear how the escalation of violence would affect the negotiations.

Presidential spokesman Cerge Remonde on Sunday said the military was under orders that the hunt for the Abu Sayyaf "should be rapidly concluded."

He also called on the leaders of the MILF to stand down and "help the government in getting rid of terrorists and lawless Abu Sayyaf elements."