Troops gaining ground in Zambo-A A +A
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
ZAMBOANGA CITY (Updated) -- Advancing government forces have gained control of at least 70 percent of areas in this city that the Moro rebels have occupied, the military said, adding helicopter gunships were deployed for the first time Monday as a hostage standoff dragged to its second week.
The government forces have launched an airstrike shortly after noon time Monday, unleashing rockets hitting the positions of the rebels in the adjoining villages of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is pushing forward. We are gaining grounds,” Armed Forces’ Public Affairs Officer Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said in a press briefing late Monday.
He said the airstrike is a closed-air support to the advancing ground troops.
But about 100 rebels remained holed up with more than 100 hostages. Government troops were continuing a push against the insurgents but were wary of causing any harm to the captives, Zagala said, adding it was difficult to say when the fighting will end.
Philippine National Police (PNP) Deputy Director-General Felipe Rojas Jr. said that 51 rebels were killed while 26 others, including women, were captured.
Rojas said 15 high-powered and seven low-powered firearms were seized by the advancing troops.
Troops have tried to contain the clashes in the coastal outskirts of the city, but suspected rebel mortar fire destroyed a car near the city's downtown area Monday, raising fears the gunmen were attempting to divert the military's attention.
Nearly 82,000 residents have fled the fighting into several emergency shelters, including the city's main sports complex.
Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas said about 850 houses had been destroyed amid fierce exchanges of gunfire and occasional bursts of mortar rounds and grenades. Police said some fires may have been deliberately set by rebels to cover their escapes.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, who chairs the Crisis Management Committee (CMC), has reiterated the call to all village officials to stay alert against possible infiltration of rebels fleeing the battle zones.
Salazar’s statement came after some of the rebels pretended to be among the hostages while fleeing from the battle zones in the adjoining villages of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina.
At least five MNLF rebels were captured by government forces while trying to flee the battle zones.
President Benigno Aquino III is in Zamboanga to oversee the handling of the worst security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.
The MNLF, led by Nur Misuari, signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected regions in the south. (AP/Bong Garcia/Sunnex)