Scattered fighting in Zamboanga
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Philippine troops hunted the remnants of a Muslim rebel group in the key southern city of Zamboanga Sunday, September 29, with residents hearing gunfire a day after the military declared an end to its 3-week campaign.
The army announced Saturday that police were taking over from troops to clear sections of the vital regional trading center of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) stragglers.
But just minutes after the military said the threat to Zamboanga was over, soldiers killed 3 MNLF fighters in a clash that also left 6 troops wounded.
"What happened was not organized resistance. These are stragglers trying to escape capture," military spokesperson Lt Col Ramon Zagala told AFP Sunday, adding that only a handful of rebels remained.
"The mission is completed. We have already neutralized the threat to Zamboanga City."
On Sunday morning, another firefight occured between the police and 10 MNLF fighters at Brgy Santa Catalina. At least 6 MNLF fighters were killed.
Authorities recovered 4 M16 rifles, one M14 rifles, one M4 rifle, 3 live ammunitions for 40mm, one handheld radio, 3 wrist watches, one cellphone and 2 ammunition rigs at the site. There was no reported casualty on the government's side.
Fighters swarmed into the city's neighborhoods 20 days ago, taking hostages and triggering weeks of violence as they sought to derail peace talks between the government and MNLF's rival group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
More than 10,000 homes were razed to the ground forcing over 100,000 people – around a tenth of the city's population – to flee.
The latest clash put the toll at 189 MNLF fighters killed, with 292 captured or surrendering, while 23 soldiers and police and 12 civilians had also been slain.
A total of 195 civilian hostages had been rescued with no more believed to still be in the hands of the gunmen, said Zagala.
The military said Nur Misuari, who founded the MNLF in the early 1970s, had sent hundreds of armed followers led by his top lieutenant Habier Malik, to Zamboanga.
Where is Malik?
Malik's identification card had been found on the body of a slain MNLF members, Zagala said, though it was too early to confirm his death and forensic examinations were being carried out.
The conflict area – 30-40 hectares (74-99 acres) of densely packed communities, mangrove swamps and ponds – would take about two weeks to clear of possible MNLF stragglers, unexploded bombs, booby traps and the buried bodies of dead gunmen, he said.
Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines. An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.
The MNLF signed a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south's Muslim minority.
However the group is opposed to a planned final peace deal between the government and the remaining major Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-strong MILF.
As of Sunday, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang said about 100 MNLF fighters have been charged over the Zamboanga siege. The government is also expected to file rebellion charges against Misuari in the coming days. – Rappler.com