MNLF frees 5 people, but tension remains high-A A +A
By Bong Garcia
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY (3rd Update, 1 p.m.) -- Tension remains high as rebels loyal to Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) founding-leader Nur Misuari are still holding several people as hostages in this city, officials said.
The rebels, however, freed Tuesday morning five people, including four children, who were held hostage in Barangay Talon-talon, said Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas in a press briefing.
Prior to the release, firefight broke out anew around 3 a.m. Tuesday between government forces and MNLF rebels near the headquarters of the Zamboanga City Public Safety Company in Barangay Sta. Barbara. The clash this morning was so far the third since Monday.
The fresh skirmishes prompted Zamboanga City Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco Salazar to keep the suspension of classes in all public and private schools in this southern port city on Tuesday.
Salazar said work in both public and private establishments remain suspended except for offices providing frontline services like social welfare, city administrator, city mayor’s office, city engineer’s office, city health office and several others.
She also said that some 30 armed MNLF tagging along civilians as human shields were monitored around 3 a.m. Tuesday in Barangay Mampang, nine kilometers east of this city.
She said the rebels and the civilians were headed to the village of Sta. Catalina, 1.76 kilometers east of this city, to support their comrades.
Reports over RMN-Zamboanga disclosed that the group came from the nearby Basilan province.
However, Salazar said combined police and military forces manning checkpoints in the village of Talon-Talon blocked them.
Salazar said they have been exerting all efforts to resolve the standoff.
Roxas said all government security forces have taken a defensive posture. “They have not taken an aggressive step.”
He said the troops have set up checkpoints, among other security measures, to secure this city and its people, adding that there have been efforts to contact as many people as possible who may be able to contribute to the success and resolution of the crisis.
But to resolve the conflict, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla, spokesperson of the Misuari group, said third party personalities should be involved in the negotiation.
Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) said all commercial flights to and from Zambanga City have been suspended as the conflict remains unresolved.
“Yung aming Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) ay hanggang alas-9 lang sana kagabi (Monday night) pero ang aming information from the Armed Forces , sa intelligence unit nila, and aming sariling intelligence people, ine-extend po namin ang suspension hanggang alas-9 ng gabi ngayong araw na ito (Tuesday),” said Deputy Director General Rodante Joya, CAAP chief financial officer.
He said the suspension of commercial flights in Zamboanga will all depend on the prevailing situation in the coming days.
Salazar on Tuesday morning appealed to CAAP to lift the suspension order as it is affecting commerce in the city, aside from the many passengers stranded there. She said the airport is secured since the conflict is just confined to the five barangays of the city.
But Joya said there were reports that reached them saying stray bullets have reached the airport’s runway. The airport is about three to four kilometers from the conflict site.
He added that the risk factor for aircraft is still present considering the standoff is not over yet.
The CAAP suspended commercial flights in Zamboanga City on Monday morning, affecting at least 10 flights and stranding some 1,500 passengers.
Joya said 10 flights will also be affected on Tuesday.
He clarified that even cargo planes are still not allowed to fly to and from Zamboanga City.
The fighting occurred Monday after troops backed by tanks blocked the MNLF rebels -- armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers – from marching into the Zamboanga City Hall, where they plan to raise their flag to declare independence, said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala.
He said most of the rebels were boxed into a Muslim coastal slum called Rio Hondo. (Sunnex)