Firefights spread to other Zamboanga villages

Richard Falcatan, Carmela Fonbuena

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At least 2 gunmen are killed, based on initial reports

FIREFIGHTS ESCALATE: Government troops engage the group of MNLF commander Habier Malik. Photo from the Zamboanga City Hall Twitter account

MANILA, Philippines — Firefights between government troops and forces of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founder Nur Misuari have spread on Day 3 of the Zamboanga siege to at least two barangays — Canelar and San Roque.

These are outside the military lines that were put up to contain the gunmen in the coastal villages.

Armed Forces spokesperson Brig Gen Domingo Tutaan confirmed fresh fighting broke out Wednesday afternoon, September 11, in Barangay Canelar between cops and Misuari’s followers. Tutaan said at least two MNLF rebels were killed based on initial reports.

“On the MNLF side, the wounded were brought to the hospital by the PNP themselves. One was wounded and two were killed from the MNLF breakaway group,” Tutaan told reporters in a 5 pm briefing. 

Barangay Canelar is near the Zamboanga International Airport.

The MNLF rebels were aboard a private vehicle. Their firearms were discovered hidden in sacks of rice. At least 4 rebels are believed to have escaped.

 

But Tutaan said the encounter in Canelar was not necessarily a spill over. “This could probably be part of those who want to come in and out. We cannot categorically say this is a spill over. This could be because some groups want to enter. We cannot speculate,” Tutaan said.

Another military source also confirmed an encounter between MNLF troops and the 3rd Marine Battalion at 3:30 pm in Barangay San Roque.

At least one Misuari follower was killed. The 3rd Marine Battalion was coming from Gingoog in Misamis Oriental to reinforce troops in Zamboanga when they chanced upon the MNLF rebels trying to escape, the source said. 

San Roque is near the Cabatangan complex — the site of a similar standoff between the military and MNLF in 2001.

More hostages?

The government earlier claimed its military lines were able to “contain” the MNLF troops in barangays Sta Barbara, Rio Hondo, Sta Catalina, Kasanyangan, Talo-Talon and Mampang. 

But Tutaan also confirmed an ongoing firefight in Sta Barbara, where MNLF commander Habier Malik is reportedly holed out. Authorities said 2 of Malik’s followers were killed in the incident.

“Security forces on the ground are making calibrated response to contain the situation,” Tutaan said. A fire also broke in in Sta Barbara’sbarangay hall.

The government was able to reclaim the mosque where Malik’s group was hiding with their 20 hostages.

Misuari’s followers number around 200, according to the military. Based on initial estimates, they were holding 180 hostages. But Tutaan said they are confirming reports that additional “30 or 37” were taken as hostages in Sta Catalina, a barangay inside the cordoned off area.

The military earlier identified 5 commanders leading the forces MNLF forces. Malik is known as the top aide of Misuari. — Rappler.com

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