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Philippine Rebels Free Police Chief in Zamboanga

The police chief in the Philippine city of Zamboanga has been freed by Muslim rebels, who had captured him earlier Tuesday.

The government says Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo returned with 23 of the rebels who initially took him and were now surrendering. Further details are not yet available.

The military says its troops have rescued 116 hostages in the past 18 hours, and recaptured most of the coastal area recently occupied by rebels with the Moro National Liberation Front, or MNLF.

A military spokesman said rebels were still engaging in clashes with troops in Zamboanga Tuesday. He said officials are uncertain how many hostages the rebels are still holding.

Fighting has continued in the region despite a cease-fire agreement reached last Friday by Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay and MNLF faction leader Nur Misuari. The truce was supposed to have gone into effect this past Saturday.

The standoff began last week, when rebels stormed Zamboanga, taking scores of hostages whom officials say they used as human shields.



Zamboanga closed schools and canceled work at most government offices, and the government continues to ground flights to and from the area.

The fighting has displaced some 70,000 people, with hundreds of homes set on fire.

The MNLF has long pushed for greater autonomy in the mainly Muslim south, where a four-decade-long insurgency has killed at least 120,000 people.

The group 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.

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