News / Asia

    Philippine Muslim Rebels Attack 2nd Province

    Government troopers continue their assault on Muslim rebels, Sept. 12, 2013, in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines.
    Government troopers continue their assault on Muslim rebels, Sept. 12, 2013, in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines.
    VOA News
    Muslim rebels have attacked a second province in the southern Philippines, not far from where they are engaged in a four day-long standoff with the military.

    Fighters linked to the Moro National Liberation Front on Thursday attacked the island province of Basilan, where local officials say at least two people were wounded.

    Basilan, PhilippinesBasilan, Philippines
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    Basilan, Philippines
    Basilan, Philippines
    Basilan Island is about 30 kilometers from the key port city of Zamboanga, where about 200 MNLF fighters have taken scores of civilians hostage since Monday.

    About 13,000 residents have fled the fighting, leaving parts of the city abandoned and resembling a war zone. So far, at least nine people have died in the conflict.

    JV Faustino, editor of the Zamboanga Today newspaper, tells VOA the atmosphere is tense.

    "All the businesses remain closed for the fourth day today, although some people are already coming out on the streets. But generally the situation is not normal. I see a number of troops roaming around the city, including tanks and heavy military equipment."

    Colonel Rodrigo Gregorio of the Philippine military says for now there is no effort to retake the areas held by rebels, who are said to be holding some of the hostages as human shields.

    "There is no effort yet to decisively capture the objectives because of our present mission. Unless all else fails, including political and diplomatic means, that mission could possibly be changed. We hope we don't have to reach that point."

    Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isaballe Climaco said Thursday in a Facebook statement that talks are ongoing with rebel leaders. President Benigno Aquino has sent some of his top officials to deal with the crisis.

    • Government troopers arrive to reinforce their comrades after an army officer was killed in the ongoing operation against Muslim rebels, Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 19, 2013.
    • Evacuees line up to receive food as fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels continued, Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 19, 2013.
    • Residents line up for a shower in a stadium turned into an evacuation center in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 18, 2013.
    • Villagers who fled the fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels rest in their tents along a boulevard in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 18, 2013.
    • Boats of villagers fleeing the fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels crowd a port in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 18, 2013.
    • Government troops fire mortars during renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines, Sept. 16, 2013.
    • Government troops prepare an assault on Muslim rebels in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 13, 2013.
    • Government soldiers wearing ammunition prepare to attack Muslim rebels in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 13, 2013.
    • Government troopers prepare for an assault on Muslim rebels in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 13, 2013.
    • Firemen rush to put out a fire that razed several homes as government troopers continue their assault on Muslim rebels in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 12, 2013.
    • A man throws water into a burning house in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 12, 2013.
    • Residents believed to be hostages wave white cloths as they shout at troops to stop their operation in the continuing standoff with Muslim rebels, Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept.11, 2013.
    • Residents who abandoned their homes carry their belongings during a standoff in Zamboanga, Philippines, Sept. 10, 2013.

    The MNLF has long pushed for greater autonomy in the mainly Muslim south, where more than 150,000 people have died during a four decade-long insurgency.

    The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. But some of its members continued to fight, claiming Manila did not hold up its end of the deal to develop the impoverished, rural region.

    MNLF founder Nur Misuari has also criticized the government's peace talks with a breakaway faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Fearing the negotiations may marginalize his own group's power, Misuari last month declared parts of the region to be independent of Manila.

    But it is unclear to what extent Misuari is involved in the current standoff, as he has not appeared in public or issued any official statement. In her Facebook statement, Mayor Climaco says she spoke with Misuari, and that he has "disowned" the actions of the hostage takers.

    Some government officials have denied that charge, claiming Misuari did order the attacks.

    Under Misuari's leadership, the MNLF in 2001 carried out a similar attack in Zamboanga. The fighters were later allowed to leave after releasing their hostages.

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