Philippine Rebels Still Hold 100 Hostages as Clashes Intensify

Government forces have recaptured most of the areas in Zamboanga City held by MNLF-rebels, but civilian hostages make further advancements problematic

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Dennis M Saganban / EPA

Filipino policemen secure the street near the site of renewed clashes as it enters the second week of a stand off between government troops and rebels, in the residential village in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines, 16 September 2013.

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.

(MORE: Philippine Troops Clash with Muslim Rebels in Southern City of Zamboanga)

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.

(MORE: The Embattled History of the Filipino South)

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.

[Sun Star]