Rebels attack Basilan; 2 hurt, 5 missing-A A +A
Thursday, September 12, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) -- Troops battled rebels on two fronts Thursday, after the insurgents attacked a second town near this southern port city where they are holding scores of residents “hostage” in a standoff with government forces.
The rebels attacked Lamitan, a predominantly Christian town in the outskirt of Basilan province on Thursday morning, said Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay. Five people were missing and two wounded, he said.
Governor Mujiv Hataman said the assault was repulsed.
Authorities said earlier they were monitoring the movement of rebel forces in that area and Hataman said that residents had already evacuated Wednesday.
The island province of Basilan is a boat ride away from Zamboanga City, where members of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction have been holding civilians since Monday, when government troops repulsed their attempt to erect a rebel flag at city hall.
The three-day crisis has virtually paralyzed Zamboanga, with most flights and ferry services suspended. Communities near the clashes resembled a war zone, with armored troop carriers lining streets, troops massing at a school and snipers taking positions atop buildings. A mosque and its minaret were pockmarked with bullet holes.
Nearly 15,000 villagers have fled from the fighting and took shelter at a grandstand in a seaside sports complex and schools. Troops were under orders to prevent the rebels from straying beyond the communities they have seized or getting reinforcements, Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said.
The rebels signed a peace deal in 1996, but their faction leader accuses the government of reneging on a promise to develop the impoverished, restive region. The rebel leader, Nur Misuari, has isolated himself and set out on a collision course with the government when he voiced opposition to the ongoing peace talks between the Philippines and the currently-dominant rebel movement, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
The talks have steadily progressed toward a new and potentially larger Muslim autonomy deal, but Misuari felt left out. Last month, his group issued new threats to secede by establishing its own republic.
At least nine combatants and villagers have been killed since the standoff in Zamboanga began, officials said. President Benigno Aquino III has sent top Cabinet officials and his military chief of staff to oversee the security crisis in the country's restive south, the scene of decades-long Muslim unrest in this predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
Misuari has not appeared in public or issued any statement since his followers barged into Zamboanga city's coast early Monday and clashed with soldiers and police.
A gunbattle erupted at rebel-held Santa Catalina village on Wednesday, where an Associated Press photographer saw from a distance about 30 villagers, believed to be hostages, who waved white cloths in front of a house and yelled, "Don't fire, don't fire."
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the rebels were demanding international mediation, adding that the rebels have so far refused to talk with provincial officials.
"They say that it's an international problem, and no less than the international community, the UN, should come in," Salazar said in a television interview. (AP/Sunnex)