Muslim rebels defiant as Philippine military close in

2013-09-16 08:02
Philippine soldiers aboard a humvee stands guard amidst smoke from burnt houses during clearing operations against Muslim rebels as the stand-off between military troops and the rebels enters a seventh day in Zamboanga City. (Ted Aljibe, AFP)

Philippine soldiers aboard a humvee stands guard amidst smoke from burnt houses during clearing operations against Muslim rebels as the stand-off between military troops and the rebels enters a seventh day in Zamboanga City. (Ted Aljibe, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Zamboanga - The Philippine military said on Monday they were close to defeating Muslim rebels laying siege to a southern city, but the guerrillas defiantly traded gunfire while using civilians as human shields.

The military said up to 100 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels were still engaged in battles with troops around two coastal villages in Zamboanga, a week after the guerrillas invaded the city to stake an independence claim.

"They still have ammunition and they continue to fire at us," armed forces spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP by phone from Zamboanga, but he insisted a military offensive was succeeding.

"We know for a fact that the end is near and they are trying to flee. Some of them may be trying to disguise as civilians, so it's very critical that the village elders help us identify those who are not from their neighbourhoods."

Heavily armed MNLF forces entered the port city's coastal neighbourhoods last Monday in a bid to sabotage talks between a rival rebel group and the government that are aimed at ending decades of conflict.

'Human shields'

Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in south of the mainly Catholic Philippines. An estimated 150 000 people have died in the fighting.

The latest violence in Zamboanga has left 51 MNLF fighters, six security forces, and four civilians dead, according to Zagala.

The rebels initially took dozens of hostages and burned hundreds of homes, forcing a shutdown of Zamboanga, a city of about one million that is a key commercial hub in the region.

Zagala said the military was on Monday maintaining its offensive, which began on Friday, and the rebels were contained in two coastal villages.

"We are continuing to push forward today. This is a calibrated action that is steady moving in a deliberate pace," he said.

However he declined to give a timeframe for when the assault may end.

He said MNLF rebels torched a section of Santa Barbara, one of the neighbourhoods, to slow down the military advance.

Volleys of gunfire could be heard ringing out across Santa Barbara, while sniper fire from the rebels prevented firemen from approaching the burning community, an AFP reporter said.

The military and police have said many of the hostages had been freed or escaped.

But Zagala said an undetermined number of villagers were still being used as "human shields" on Monday.

Services suspended

After its Philippine representative visited Zamboanga, the New York-based Human Rights Watch expressed concern for civilians trapped in the conflict.

As many as 300 civilians in one village had sought shelter in an ice plant building after abandoning their homes, while others had stayed behind to protect their belongings, it said.

Some residents told the rights monitor they feared that those left behind could be accused of being rebels.

Nearly 70 000 people have already fled the fighting, and international humanitarian agencies have rushed aid.

Classes as well as ferry and air services remained suspended for an eighth consecutive day in Zamboanga, as local businessmen warned of severe consequences to the local economy.

Zamboanga, about 850km south of the capital Manila, is a former Spanish fort during colonial times famous for its thriving barter trade with neighbouring countries.

Today it is a major industrial and trading hub for the south, while one of its most important economic sectors is a sardine-producing industry.

The MNLF waged a 25-year guerrilla war for independence before signing a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south's Muslim minority.

MNLF founder Nur Misuari deployed the gunmen to Zamboanga after accusing the government of sidelining his group during negotiations for a separate deal with a rival rebel group.

The rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is in the final stages of peace talks with Manila and is aiming to take over an expanded autonomous Muslim region in the south by 2016.

The siege began after Misuari's men went to Zamboanga to plant an independence flag.

Read more on:    mnlf  |  milf  |  nur misuari  |  philippines

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.