MANILA, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- At least 23 soldiers and militants have been killed during three days of clashes in the southern Philippines.
The fighting broke out Saturday when a group of about 40 militants attacked a military detachment from the Filipino 51st Infantry Battalion at a village in the Lanao del Sur province.
Troops were still engaged in sporadic clashes Tuesday as the number of militants rose to 80.
The fighting has killed at least three Filipino soldiers, including one who was killed when militants ambushed a detachment of the Fifth Mechanized Battalion on Tuesday. At least 20 militants are also believed dead.
Filipino troops have reportedly cordoned the area, and helicopter gunships and warplanes have been deployed to conduct airstrikes against militant positions.
The Philippines' southern island of Mindanao is home to several armed Muslim groups.
The clashes came as Filipino troops in the neighboring Maguindanao province battled militants with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters -- a breakaway group that opposes ongoing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim rebel group in the country.
A military source told Xinhua news agency that the militants in Lanao del Sur were followers of Edris Salindawan, also known as Abu Hanif, a commander in the MILF.