Some Hostages Released, but Philippines Insurgent Standoff Continues

Mortar explosions rock the city of Zamboanga soon after MNLF rebels release five civilian hostages to government forces

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STR / AFP / Getty Images

A sniper from the combat police force gets into position to confront Moro National Liberation Front rebels in Zamboanga City, the Philippines, on Sept. 9, 2013

Heavy fighting continues between the Philippine National Police and members of the insurgent group Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the southern city of Zamboanga.

At least five of an expected 87 civilian hostages were released on Tuesday morning, but mortar explosions and sniper fire rocked the city soon after the handover, dismissing hopes of a cease-fire. Zamboanga Mayor Beng Climaco stated that four people had been killed in the clash and 14 wounded.

The violence erupted the day before when gunfire was exchanged between a navy vessel and boats carrying rebels. An MNLF spokesperson has denied that the incident was an attack on government forces.

The MNLF has taken a backseat in the struggle for an autonomous, Muslim state since a breakout group formed the more influential Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The government says the fighting in Zamboanga City will not endanger peace talks with MILF, which are currently at an advanced state, and added that the MNLF would not be left out of the process.