AFP: 70% of battle zone cleared

GAINING HEADWAY: Government troops clear 70 percent of battlezone. Photo by Rappler

GAINING HEADWAY: Government troops clear 70 percent of battlezone.

Photo by Rappler

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — The forces of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) commander Habier Malik are now trapped in a very small area in the outskirts of Zamboanga City, the military said Monday, September 16.

Heavy fighting continued Monday evening as government troops fired rounds of mortar toward Rio Hondo, the remaining stronghold of Malik's forces. Another fire also broke out in Sta Catalina.

Armed Forces spokesperson Lt Col Ramon Zagala said government troops have cleared 70% of the battle zone.

"Of the occupied [villages] by these MNLF-Nur Misuari faction, 70% are already in AFP and PNP control," Zagala said.

Malik is the top aide of MNLF founder Nur Misuari. Opposed to the new peace deal the government is finalizing with rival group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), they attacked Zamboanga City to get government attention.

In an interview with Rappler on Sunday, Malik admitted that the government troops were closing in on them. He said he is ready to die. 

The government troops stepped up its attacks on Monday, the 8th day of the Zamboanga City crisis, launching air strikes for the first time in the weeklong standoff.

Zagala said the troops continue to do "constriction operations" to limit the movement of the MNLF rebels. 

"It is still a calibrated response in order for us to ensure the safety and security of the hostages and those possible civilians that may be trapped inside," said Zagala.

Combined forces of soldiers and police were deployed to secure this city, which was brought down to its knees because of the attack. Business, tourism, and people's morale are badly damaged.

The MNLF attacked the city on September 9. They took about 180 hostages and shut down the city.

At least 69 were either released or have escaped. Out of this number, a total of 36 were released Monday night

While the government is making headway against the MNLF faction, city residents feel  terrorized.

Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle "Beng" Climaco ordered local officials to stay alert against rebels fleeing out of the battle zone. 

She said barangay officials should make sure that people roaming their areas are residents. —with reports from Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.com