Zamboanga City Hall reopens after 21 days

BACK IN BUSINESS. The Zamboanga City Hall reopens September 30, 2013 after fighting in the city forced it to suspend operations for 3 weeks. In this photo, the Philippine flag flies half-mast on the first day of the resumption of the city hall's operations. Photo by Karlos Manlupig/Rappler.

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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – The Zamboanga City hall reopened Monday, September 30, after being forced to close for 3 weeks following a standoff between government troops and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

The Philippine flag was raised half-mast in front of the city hall, as government offices resumed operations.

On Saturday, September 28, the military ended its 3-week campaign against MNLF  fighters who occupied several barangays in the city last September 9.

MNLF fighters seized the city's neighborhoods, shutting down the city, taking hostages and triggering weeks of violence. They accused the government of ignoring the MNLF, which signed a peace agreement with the Ramos administration in 1996, at the expense of the current peace talks between the government and the breakaway 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 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 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. – With reports from Karlos Manlupig and the Agence France-Presse/ Rappler.com