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Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 9:34:00 AM
Monday September 9, 2013 MYT 3:23:06 PM
Media reports claim the Moro rebels linked to Nur Misuari.
ZAMBOANGA CITY: A Philippine navy patrol clashed early Monday with suspected Muslim rebels aboard several boats off southern Zamboanga city in a fierce clash that killed one naval special forces member and wounded several others, military officials said.
Vice Mayor Cesar Iturralde said about 30 hostages have been allegedly taken hostage by more than 100 heavily armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City.
Iturralde told the Philippines Inquirer that the group was demanding to put up their flag in the government city hall.
The navy men clashed with about the rebels, who were on board a large motorboat and eight smaller vessels off Rio Hondo, a crowded Muslim community in the port city of Zamboanga, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.
The pre-dawn clash later spilled into Rio Hondo as people slept, prompting scores of residents to flee, Zagala said. Reinforcement troops and police have been deployed to help secure Rio Hondo, which is located near the downtown area of Zamboanga, a bustling trading hub in the south.
But Police Chief Superintendent Juanito Vaño Jr., Region IX police director, said he could not confirm yet the number of fatalities though he said there were four police officers who were slightly wounded.
At least 20 heavily armed men entered Barangay (village) Sta. Catalina using civilians as human shield, Vaño said.
He said rebels held hostage 10 to 15 civilians, but noted that authorities were now trying to contain the group inside the village.
“Hopefully we will be able to get the civilians and engage them properly,” Vaño said in a radio interview. He said negotiations were ongoing.
Prior to the encounter, which the Region IX Tactical Operations Center said started between 4 a.m. to 5 a.m., Vaño said several uniformed MNLF members were arrested after they were seen carrying their firearms.
“They are not allowed to do that in Zamboanga City,” Vaño said.
Asked if the group didn’t coordinate their entry with authorities, Vaño said the group did not have to make any coordination since they are not allowed in the area to start with.
Radyo Inquirer 990AM reported that the gunfight had forced the suspension of classes and work in the city. The same report was posted by the Philippine Information Agency – Region 9 on Twitter.
“Gunfight continues to frighten Zamboanga City residents as MNLF and government [troops] exchanged gun fire,” PIA-Region 9 said on its Twitter post.
The gunfight had prompted Mayor Maria Isabelle “Beng” Climaco to announce the suspension of classes in all levels, private and public, in the city. Work has also been suspended.
“Authorities are collaborating efforts to resolve the situation. Public is advised to remain calm and sober but alert and vigilant and report anything unusual to police,. Mayor Climaco is convening the Crisis Management Committee to assess the situation,” the Twitter post added.
According to other media reports in Zamboanga, about 400 suspected MNLF rebels have taken over four barangays in Zamboanga City.
As of 7 a.m., Climaco was quoted as saying that the MILF took 20 hostages and a Zamboanga City radio station stated the number has increased to 38 as of 8:51 am with the rebels taking control of Sta Barbara, Sta Catalona, Rio Hondo, Mariki, and areas in Talontalon.
The group is led by a certain Haber Malik, a lieutenant of MNLF head Nur Misuari, according to radio station Radyo Agong.
U.S. counterterrorism forces that have been providing training to Filipino troops for years are based in a Philippine military camp in Zamboanga city but officials said the skirmishes have been confined so far to Rio Hondo.
The Moro group signed a 1996 peace accord with the government but many of its fighters held on to their arms and accused officials of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for minority Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines. ANN/ Philippine Inquirer
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Phillipines, Moro, Zamboanga, Attack
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