Saturday, September 14, 2013

Philippines\' military closes in on rebels

Tens of thousands of residents have fled the southern city of Zamboanga since armed forces belonging to the Moro National Liberation Front entered the city on Monday, taking dozens of people hostage.

People are continuing to flee as soldiers move to clear the MNLF rebels, after a government backed ceasefire plan collapsed.

\"We are continuing to press forward with our calibrated military response,\" military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said.

\"Fighting is continuing as we speak. They continue to resist and conduct offensive actions against us.\"

At least 3000 elite government troops have been deployed in the region and air and sea ports remain closed.

Ceasefire fails

A ceasefire plan which was to be brokered by Vice President Jejomar Binay and MNLF leader Nur Misuari was abandoned on Saturday after the two sides failed to agree to its terms.

The MNLF waged a 25-year guerrilla war for independence before signing a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south\'s Muslim minority.

The rebels have accused the government of terminating that peace deal by negotiating separately with a rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Those negotiations are in the final stages and the MILF is expected to take over an expanded autonomous Muslim region in the south by 2016.

Thousands flee

Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the number of people who had fled to temporary shelters had risen to more than 69,000.

\"The number swelled yesterday because thousands more evacuated from areas the rebels were likely to use as escape routes,\" she said.

\"We hope they will be able to go home in the coming week,\" she said.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says police estimate the MNLF gunmen in the city are holding as few as seven people, compared to more than 100 a day earlier.

Many are believed to have either escaped or been allowed to go free.
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