(CNN) -- At least 44 people, including 23 Filipino soldiers, died Wednesday in fighting between the Philippine military and Islamic militants, the country's armed services said on Thursday.
A wounded Philippine Marine receives a medal from Major Gen. Benjamin Dolorfino in Zamboanga Thursday.
The fighting was sparked by military raids on Abu Sayyaf militant training camps in the villages of Silangkum and Baguindan on the southern island province of Basilan, said Steffani Cacho, public information officer for the Philippine Armed Services.
Thirty to 40 militants were killed, but only 21 bodies had been recovered, the military said. Twenty-three members of the military were killed and 22 suffered injuries.
The militants used the training camps to temporarily house kidnapping victims and make explosives, Cacho said, adding that high-power firearms, explosives and documents were seized in the raids.
Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al Qaeda terrorist network, is one of several Islamic militant groups fighting the Philippine government. The group operates largely in Basilan, according to the U.S. State Department, and wants to establish a separate state for the country's minority Muslim population.
The government has been fighting to contain the group, which is blamed for several terrorist attacks in the Philippines, including the bombing of a ferry in 2004 that left about 130 people dead.
This year Abu Sayyaf has been implicated in the kidnappings of several Red Cross workers and journalists.
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