Despite advances by Philippine government troops, who say they have reclaimed 70 percent of the areas of Zamboanga seized by Islamist insurgents, an estimated 100 guerrilla fighters remain holed up in the southern Philippine city together with more than 100 hostages.
In the past few days, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have carried out a concerted effort to wipe out the separatist fighters that have kept Zamboanga paralyzed since they first attacked on Sept. 9. According to AFP officials, 100 rebels have been either killed or arrested.
On Monday, helicopter gunships were for the first time deployed to attack rebel positions, however further advances have been made difficult by the presence of captive civilians. Local and international humanitarian organizations have implored both sides to provide a safe passage for civilians trapped in the line of fire.
Approximately 80,000 civilians have fled the fighting in Zamboanga and on the nearby island of Basilan. Many of them will have no home to return to. Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas has been quoted as saying that 850 houses have been consumed by the fires that ensued after heavy mortar shelling.
The rebels, from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), are believed to have attacked the city in order to vent their rage over an ongoing peace process between the government and the rival separatist group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The two groups were once united in their struggle for an independent state in the Muslim-majority parts of southern Philippines, but the latter broke away in a disagreement over a peace accord in 1996.