13 hurt in fresh fighting in Zamboanga

Karlos Manlupig
Army troops enter a village Friday afternoon only to retreat due to heavy gunfire from the MNLF side

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (UPDATED) – Heavy fighting continued here Friday afternoon, September 13, as government troops and gunmen clashed in Barangay Sta Catalina.

At least 11 Red Cross responders and one cop suffered minor injuries during the fighting  past 5 pm Friday in sitio Lustre, Barangay Sta Catalina. Residents scampered for safety as both sides traded fire.

Out of 11 injured from the Red Cross, 10 are still in the hospital as of 8:20 pm, according to a Red Cross statement.

One cop was also wounded in the Friday afternoon gunfight while one soldier was wounded earlier.

At least 5 armored personnel carriers entered Sta Catalina at 4 pm but retreated due to heavy gunfire from the side of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

Retreating troops said one bomb exploded in sitio Lustre in Sta Catalina.

The military assault happened a couple of hours after the visit of President Benigno Aquino III to Zamboanga City.

FRIDAY FIRE. Two fires occur in Sta Catalina, Zamboanga City on Sept 13. Photo by Xeph Suarez

Two fires also broke out in Sta Catalina.

The siege by followers of MNLF founder Nur Misuari entered its 5th day on Friday.  Misuari wants a re-negotiation of the MNLF’s 1996 peace agreement with the Ramos government and is opposed to the current peace talks with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

For 4 days, members of the crisis management committee debated the options to end the siege. What delayed the decision for an all-out assault was the fact that the occupied areas are filled with civilians.

On Thursday night, the Zamboanga City Council ordered a forced evacuation in 5 villages.

Ordinance 418 was approved by the Council, effectively implementing forced evacuation in barangays Rio Hondo, Sta Barbara, Sta Catalina, Talon-Talon and Mampang.

The Zamboanga City Government said the evacuation is a resort “when a disaster [or] emergency has been declared in Zamboanga City and danger or loss of lives becomes imminent.”

Because of the Forced Evacuation Ordinance, local authorities, police and government troops will ensure evacuees do not return to their homes until Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco declares “back to normal” status, according to the Philippine Information Agency of Western Mindanao.

Evacuees

At least 22 people have been killed and 52 wounded in 5 days of fighting, while 19 of the gunmen have surrendered or been captured, military spokesman Lt Col Ramon Zagala told the Agence France-Presse.

At least 15,000 people have fled their homes because of the fighting, which is contained in 6 heavily populated areas of the city of nearly one million, officials said.

They said nearly 200 Zamboanga residents have been seized as hostages and are being used as human shields by the gunmen, who have also set fire to parts of the six coastal districts.

Government forces had moved into those areas to prevent more destruction, Zagala said. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/ Rappler.com