Zamboanga clash kills 6, shuts down city

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Monday, September 9, 2013

MANILA (8th Update) -- At least six people died while 24 were wounded in Monday’s clash between government troops and alleged members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City, said Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar.

"Since the start of the crisis at around 4:30 a.m. today [Monday], the Zamboanga City Police Office report(ed) that six people were killed — one policeman, one Navy personnel and four civilians, [while] 24 [were] wounded in the course of the encounter between government troops and the rebels," Salazar said in a statement.

"More casualties are reported on the enemy side," she added.


Zamboanga City police said they arrested 11 members of the MNLF after a predawn clash with the military on Monday.

Classes and government transactions in the city were suspended on Monday, while flights in and out of the "Asia's Latin City" have been cancelled amid the ongoing security concerns there.

Affected by the clashes were Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Talon-talon and Mampang villages.

Philippines Clash1
In this handout photo released by the Philippine Information Agency Region IX, residents stay outside a cordoned area as Philippines military soldiers secure an area in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines, Monday Sept. 9, 2013. A Philippine navy patrol clashed early Monday with suspected members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction aboard several boats, before the rebels stormed a coastal community and took about a dozen hostages, officials said. (AP Photo)

Military reports said MNLF members hold 20 as hostages, while at least 200 individuals are stranded in Barangay Sta. Catalina.

Salazar clarified though that these 200 people cannot leave the area but they are not in custody of the armed rebels.

According to the timeline presented by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the intrusion of the alleged MNLF members into Zamboanga City began Sunday night.

As early as 10:30 p.m. of September 8, the Zamboanga PNP have already arrested four members of the MNLF, it said.

"We are doing everything to resolve the conflict as soon as possible," Salazar said.

Philippines Clash2
In this handout photo released by the Philippine Information Agency Region IX, Philippine military Philippine military soldiers take position to secure an area in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines, Monday Sept. 9, 2013. A Philippine navy patrol clashed early Monday with suspected members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction aboard several boats, before the rebels stormed a coastal community and took about a dozen hostages, officials said. (AP Photo)

As of this posting, there are no demands yet coming from the MNLF.

Salazar said 600 evacuees from Arena Blanco and Rio Hondo have been sheltered at the grandstand, and 847 at Tetuan Central School and Tetuan Parish Church, as well as at the Talon-talon National High School.

She said the City has set up a command center with City Administrator Antonio Orendain Jr. as ground supervisor.

"I am in touch with President (Noynoy) Aquino and the Executive Department and they are monitoring and helping us resolve this concern," she added.

The City Government also asked residents to call its hotline to report suspicious activity. The City Government said in its official Twitter account that they have already set up evacuation centers for civilians.

Major Harold Cabunoc, commander of the Army's 7th Civil Relations Group, said the encounter occurred at 1:45 a.m.

Armed Forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told the Associated Press that the fighting happened after the troops backed by tanks blocked the MNLF rebels, who were armed by assault rifles, from marching into Zamboanga City Hall where they plan to raise their flag to declare independence.

Zagala said the government forces discovered the rebels’ plan three days ago, so they took defensive positions.

"We cannot allow another armed force to march around our cities. That is unacceptable," he said.

He said in a radio interview Monday that they are verifying if some MNLF members managed to enter the city proper.

Radio reports quoted the PNP in Zamboanga Peninsula as saying the situation remained tense as of 8 a.m. In a radio interview, Task Force Zamboanga head Colonel Andrelino Colina said the MNLF is trying "to move forward to the center of the city."

Also, the reports said the clashes with government troops frightened residents, with the alleged MNLF reportedly bringing with them weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades.

Mayor Salazar said she has given instructions to arrest armed persons who have no license to carry firearms.

She said the City also alerted its barangay tanods and Bantay Dagat against the possible entry of more MNLF members from the coastal areas.

Zamboanga City police also urged residents to report anything unusual to police at 991-5656. Police said some residents are trapped at Barangay Sta. Catalina, where some MNLFs were situated.

Palace condemned the incident, with presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda saying “it is incumbent on all people of goodwill to reject the violence that has erupted.”

A top official of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), another Moro rebel group talking peace with the government, characterized as a “desperate move” the attack allegedly launched by the MNLF forces.

The military strike carried out by the MNLF, which signed a peace pact with the Philippine Government in 1996, was “a public demonstration of frustration by Brother Nur (Misuari)” over how government dealt with his group in relation to the process of resolving the Bangsamoro question, said Jaafar.

“This action is not necessary at this time. It only complicates the situation instead of helping solve the problems of the Moro people,” he stressed.

But the MNLF in its official Facebook page denied its forces attacked the villages.

The page administrator, Rltr. John R. Petalcorin, director of Advocacy of MNLF, said they have no idea about the attack, adding they were busy coordinating with the MNLF-OIC meeting the past five days.

He said the group behind Monday’s standoff in Zamboanga City could be the 15EC (a separatist of the MNLF who still use the name of the MNLF in their deal with government), who got irked after the genuine MNLF lead by Nur Misuari “disowned and exposed any connection with the pork barrel release (via Armm) of P1.2 billion Pamana Project to the counterfeit MNLFs.”

“We, the genuine MNLF, denounce any use violence in forwarding any kind of political objective, especially in activities in line with the Mindanao Declaration of Independence (MiDI)… The MIM and the genuine MNLF don't have any hand on that armed conflict your paper is talking about now. We condemn, with utmost sincerity, any form of violence. Our members are intact and are inside their homes. We have not ordered any armed mobilization. If any of our members are attacked in their homes, they will defend their lives and the lives of their family and community,” Petalcorin added.

Below is his statement posted on the MNLF Facebook page:

(JK/Virgil Lopez/Glaiza Jarloc/With AP/Sunnex)

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