Philippine army launches air strikes on Muslim rebels

2013-09-16 14:03
 Philippine soldiers fire a 60mm mortar towards Muslim rebels position in the eight-day standoff in Zamboanga City. (Ted Aljibe, AFP)

Philippine soldiers fire a 60mm mortar towards Muslim rebels position in the eight-day standoff in Zamboanga City. (Ted Aljibe, AFP)

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Manila - The Philippine military on Monday launched helicopter strikes against Muslim rebels in a bid to flush them out of a southern port city, where a week-long siege has killed 62 people and displaced tens of thousands.

Two MG-520 attack helicopters fired at least three rockets into the positions of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in Zamboanga City, 875km south of Manila, said Captain Jefferson Somera, an army spokesperson.

There were no immediate reports of casualties on the enemy side from the air strikes, Somera said.

"We are further constricting the area where MNLF rebels are located," said military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.

Zagala said the airstrikes were guided by ground troops in order to avoid civilian casualties.

The MNLF forces are holding at least 183 hostages in six areas of Zamboanga City and using them as human shields, according to the military.

Government troops have killed 51 MNLF rebels in clashes since almost 200 guerrillas swooped down on Zamboanga City on 9 September, said Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan, a military spokesperson.

Another 63 MNLF fighters have been arrested or have surrendered.

Three soldiers, three police officers and five civilians have been killed, he added.

More than 67 000 people have fled their homes in fear of being caught in the crossfire, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The rebels have also been setting houses on fire in a bid to block any military offensive.

The fighting erupted when armed MNLF rebels gathered for a protest march in the centre of the bustling port city of more than 800 000 people, to denounce what they saw as the government's failure to implement a 1996 peace agreement.

The Philippine government is currently finalising details of a preliminary peace deal to create a new autonomous Muslim region by 2016. The deal was signed in October with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke off from the MNLF in 1978.

Read more on:    mnlf  |  milf  |  philippines

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