Philippine News

Troops take back villages from rebels
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Phils (Sept. 16, 2013) -- Troops yesterday took back portions of two villages from rebels as government forces cut off escape routes of the armed men belonging to the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) to end a week-long standoff that has left more than 60 people dead in this city, officials said.

“We are gaining ground. We’ve taken back some of the areas from them. We are still moving forward,” Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said.

As troops moved through barangay Sta. Barbara, the extent of the damage from seven days of fighting came into full view.

Sporadic clashes continued as soldiers moved to clear MNLF gunmen from coastal neighborhoods after a ceasefire plan collapsed, with thousands more residents fleeing to safety.

Military officials said 53 rebels have been killed in Barangay Sta. Barbara, while 55 guerrillas have been captured.

Zagala said that so far six soldiers, one policeman and six civilians have been killed, while 59 troops were wounded in the various encounters in the city.

In Sta. Barbara, buildings were reduced to smoldering heaps or pockmarked with bullet holes.

Soldiers recovered the bodies of two slain gunmen still clinging to their rifles, and the fleeing rebels left behind several unexploded warheads for use in rocket-propelled grenades.

In the distance, black smoke billowed from another area that had just gone up in flames.

And in a nearby district, a group of soldiers could be seen crouched on the street as sniper fire whizzed just above their heads, television footage showed.

“We are continuing to press forward with our calibrated military response,” Zagala said. “Fighting is continuing as we speak. They continue to resist and conduct offensive actions against us.”

At least 11 rebels, including snipers, were captured while trying to escape.

Three hostages, including a doctor and a pastor who were among the hostages held as human shields, were rescued yesterday morning in barangay Sta. Catalina.

Police said four of the 11 captured guerrillas were found inside the drainage system.

Barangay councilor Jimmy Villaflores said the suspects slipped through the drainage along Martha Drive before they were spotted in the drainage outlet near the barangay hall.

“They were slipping through the drainage system to escape the military operation,” Villaflores said.

The village official and village watchmen helping in the area believed that there were still a number of the rebels stuck in the drainage system trying to flee.

The six other suspects were intercepted at the Lustre section as the troops, backed by armored personnel carriers, rescued the three hostages.

Villagers captured another rebel trying to escape through the mangroves.

All the captured suspects were carrying MNLF identification cards. They were brought to the police headquarters.

Heavily armed MNLF forces entered the port city’s coastal neighborhoods last Monday and took dozens of hostages in a bid to scuttle peace talks between another militant group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and the government aimed at ending a decades-long rebellion in the south.

Zagala said the fighting was now concentrated in two coastal villages, while other areas have been secured.

Day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government troops have assaulted rebel positions.

Airports and seaports remained closed Sunday in a crisis that has paralyzed the city of one million, seen entire neighborhoods razed to the ground, and forced tens of thousands to flee.

Police on Saturday estimated that the gunmen were now holding as few as seven civilian hostages, compared to more than 100 a day earlier, with many either escaping or were released.

President Aquino spent the weekend in Zamboanga City as he assessed the situation on the ground.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte refused to say, however, how long the commander-in-chief will stay in Mindanao, citing security reasons.

“The President is still in Zamboanga,” Valte said without elaborating.

Aquino flew to Zamboanga City last Friday to assess the security situation and boost the moral of the soldiers.
Volume 11 No 18 - September 16-30, 2013
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