Skip to main content

Philippines troops contain Muslim rebels as Zamboanga siege continues

By Peter Shadbolt, CNN
updated 5:02 AM EDT, Thu September 12, 2013
Government soldiers take cover from rebel sniper fire during heavy fighting in Zamboanga City on September 12, 2013.
Government soldiers take cover from rebel sniper fire during heavy fighting in Zamboanga City on September 12, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sporadic gunfire as troops contain Muslim rebels in Zamboanga City
  • Reports show smoke billowing from the Santa Catalina district
  • Two AFP troops have been killed and an estimated14 rebels killed
  • Zamboanga mayor says negotiations are continuing with rebels

(CNN) -- Sporadic and intermittent gunfire rang out in Zamboanga City for a fourth day on Thursday as armed forces continued to clash with Muslim Moro National Liberation Front rebels holding as many as 180 hostages on the Philippine island of Mindanao.

Lt. Colonel Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the Philippines Armed Forces (AFP), told CNN that government troops currently had "contained" an estimated 180 MNLF rebels in five districts of the mainly Christian city.

"Right now we went to ensure that we keep them in those locations so they can't get in and they can't get out," he said. "But unfortunately they are holding between 160 and 180 hostages."

He said their original plan had been to land by sea and march on Zamboanga's city hall and raise the MNLF flag.

"We stopped that but now our immediate concern is the safety and the security of the hostages," Zagala said, adding that Philippines troops were under orders to contain the rebels and were not engaged in what he called "offensive operations."

Landmark peace deal in Philippines

He said the intermittent gunfire that could be heard across the city was a part of the containment operation.

READ: Rebel leaders, Filipino officials sign landmark peace deal

"Sometimes these elements (rebels) are trying to punch out and they fire at us so we also fire at them," Zagala said. He said the condition of the hostages was not known, but crisis managers were concerned about a lack of food and water.

Zagala said rebels had killed two government troops -- one during the first encounter at sea and the second was killed by sniper fire on Tuesday -- and wounded 17 more.

AFP forces had recovered one rebel body.

"We can't verify the rebel body count because we don't have the bodies but the best figure that we have is that AFP has killed 14 MNLF," he said.

Almost 13,000 people have been evacuated from the districts of Talon-Talon, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, Kasanyangan, Canela and Mampang in Zamboanga, government sources said.

Zamboanga's mayor, Isabelle Climaco Salazar, told a press briefing that she had been in direct contact with the head of the MNLF rebels, Nur Misuari, and the leader of the hostage takers, Habier Malik.

"Last night I was able to talk to Chairman Nur Misuari hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis," Climaco said. "What is of interest is that Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers with whom I communicated separately."

Sometimes these elements (rebels) are trying to punch out and they fire at us so we also fire at them
Lt. Colonel Ramon Zagala

Zagala said that while Misuari had disavowed the actions of Malik, saying that the commanders in the MNLF were free to carry out actions as they wished, he said it was the government's belief that Misuari was behind the current rebel action.

The MNLF, a separatist movement founded in 1971 by Nur Misuari with the aim of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in this mainly Catholic country, signed a peace deal with the central government in Manila in 1996, though some of its members have broken away to continue a violent campaign.

READ: Philippine rebels agree to wealth-sharing deal

Last month, Misuari issued a "declaration of independence" for the Moro nation -- referring to Mindanao's indigenous Muslim population -- after complaining that the MNLF had been left out of a recent wealth-sharing agreement with another insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, which has fought for decades to set up an independent Islamic state on the resource-rich island of Mindanao.

Under the agreement signed this year, Muslims will get a 75% share of income derived from the exploitation of metallic minerals in the area -- reported to include gold and copper. The current stand-off is believed to be linked to the terms of the agreement.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino's plan is to achieve lasting peace in the region by 2016 when his term ends.

Agreements have yet to be reached on power-sharing and normalization, which means giving up arms. A report published last year by the International Crisis Group warned that the peace process needed to find ways to support insurgents as they build normal, civilian lives.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:45 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
updated 9:43 PM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
updated 4:48 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
updated 9:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
updated 7:12 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
updated 6:44 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
updated 5:26 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
updated 5:54 AM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
updated 9:31 AM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT