Muslim rebels are still in Zamboanga City for the fourth straight day as local officials dialogued with both the rebel commander and the Moro National Liberation Front chairman.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) was created in the early 1970s and its primary goal is to create a separate Muslim state in the southern Philippines. A peace accord was signed between Misuari, the leader of the group, and then-president Fidel Ramos in 1996 granting the front a four-province Autonomous Region of Muslims, according to the U.S.-based National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. In 2001, though, Misuari “returned to to his terrorist roots with his November 2001 attack on an army base that led to 100 deaths.”
It has been unclear whether Misuari was directing the hundreds of rebels who have entered the city, engaged in firefights with soldiers, and taken hostages.
Misuari on Thursday disowned Habier Malik, a lieutenant of Misuari’s who is leading the rebels in Zamboanga City, according to Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco, who spoke with both.
In a 10 a.m. statement broadcast on Twitter and Facebook, Climaco said that military and police forces are doing their best to resolve the crisis while the Liberation Front forces are in 6 of the 98 barangays, or areas of the city.
They are “inflicting damage not only to lives and properties but to the economy of our beloved Zamboanga City,” said Climaco.
Climaco said in regards to different sectors:
“At this point, allow me to address key sectors of the community:
- Ø To the business sector –groceries, pharmacies, gasoline stations and other establishments in unaffected areas—please continue to sell supplies. Those in the commercial areas, if you decide not to open your stores, please open alternative stores in safer areas and help keep our city running
- Ø To the financial community—I have already written the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas executives requesting that they find creative ways to open in unaffected areas and secure approval from your senior management offices so that our people can transact business, as our people need additional supply of funds. The same call is issued to the pawnshop operators and remittance centers
- To the medical community—we request that doctors remain in hospitals because you are needed to serve patients who have medical needs in these very trying times.
- Ø To the barangay leaders and to the neighborhood leaders like lawyers, accountants, businessmen and all others—organize yourselves as a barangay network group to secure your local from rumors spreading around. Your neighbors and your community are looking after your leadership.
- Ø To all the religious and spiritual leaders—please pray for the safety and wellbeing of the hostages and to help end this very, very sad situation.”
Liberation Front Still Has Hostages; Thousands Have Fled Their Homes
There are still hostages being held by the Liberation Front, though the number is unclear. At some points it has been as many as more than 300.
Climaco called on the hostage takers to let go of the hostages, “especially the elderly, the sick, the children and people with disabilities.”
Meanwhile, more than 13,000 people have fled their homes, many from the districts that are at least partly under rebel control.
At least nine people have been killed in the situation, with dozens more wounded.
“There is no need for an international body to mediate on the matter but sincerity and calm from all parties involved,” he said in a statement obtained by the Philippine Sun-Star.
“Currently, peace talks are taking place with the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front), as the government is still very determined to achieve a just and lasting peace in Mindanao. Whatever needs to be discussed with the MNLF, on the other hand, can be brought to a negotiating table and Congress can be the third-party venue for the Executive and the MNLF to come to terms for our nation,” he said.
Rebels Call for International Mediation
The rebels called for international mediation in the conflict from the United Nations.
The rebels are enraged by a broken peace deal with the government and “they refuse to listen to anybody locally,” said Climaco.
“They say that it’s an international problem, and no less than the international community, the U.N., should come in,” she told television network ABS-CBN. Shots rang out as she spoke from the city hall.
House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said that Congress can be the third-party mediator.
Trouble with Rebels Began on Sunday
The trouble in Zamboanga city began late Sunday when police arrested five Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas who were wearing combat uniforms and carrying pistols in Rio Hondo, the military said.
Then a navy patrol spotted a large boat and eight smaller vessels carrying dozens of armed guerrillas off Rio Hondo, sparking a gunbattle at sea that killed a member of the navy special forces and wounded six others.
Early Monday morning, rebels began moving into the city.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.