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600 MNLF fighters invade Zamboanga

Filipino soldiers maneuver to re-inforce on-going clash

Filipino soldiers maneuver to reinforce during on-going clash in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines, 09 September 2013. A Filipino soldier was killed and several wounded in a clash with members of a Muslim rebel group, a military spokesman said. The fighting erupted before dawn when a navy patrol boat accosted several boats carrying armed followers of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) off Zamboanga City, 875 kilometres south of Manila, spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala told a local radio station. EPA/LAURENZ CASTILLO

ZAMBOANGA CITY – About 600 fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) invaded the city early Monday morning killing at least six people, injuring 24 others and holding hostage medical staffs and patients of the Zamboanga City Regional Hospital and some civilians of Barangay Sta Catalina in this city.

City Mayor Maria Isabel Climaco said “The city government is mobilizing all resources to address the situation brought about by the infiltration of MNLF members in some coastal Barangays in this city.”

“We are in close coordination with our police and military authorities and everything is being done to solve the crisis the soonest possible time with minimal damage to lives and properties,” she added.

Since the start of the crisis at around 4:30 am Monday, the Zamboanga City Police Office reported to the mayor that 6 people have been killed – one policemen, one navy man, and four civilianss – while 24 more were wounded in the course of the encounter between government troops and the rebels. More casualties are reported on the enemy site, the mayor said.

Among the slain were PO3 Murphy Abillani of the Zamboanga City Public Safety Office, a jeepney driver and unidentified navy man.

Indentified wounded were identified as Army Corporal Mihadol Ajalin, Arnel Sumangpong, a security guard, Henry Sebastian, a tanod of Barangay Talon-Talon, Hamid Jarpan, a jeepney bound for Barangay Mampang and Jakura Bahari an elderly woman.

Climaco said Barangays affected in the crisis are Sta Catalina, Sta Barbara, Talon Talon, and Mampang.

The mayor here said the MNLF are holding about 20 people hostages from Sta Catalina. 200 people were initially tagged as hostages, but reports say that they are merely stranded in Kasanyangan village, and are not being held at gunpoint.

Some 600 evacuees from Village of Arena Blanco and Rio Hondo are now at the Zamboanga City Joaquin Enriquez Sport Complex while 847 are at Tetuan central school and Tetuan parish church, while several other others are at Talon-Talon National High School compound, she said.

Zamboanga city hall, in coordination with private hospitals are setting up an emergency hospital at the sport complex where all victims will be directed. Ambulances from private and public hospitals will also be stationed in the area, the mayor said.

The MNLF group have split into several small groups after landing at heavy populated coastal Barangays in this city shortly before 3 am Monday.

Report said around 300 MNLF gunmen are now occupying the heavy populated Barangays of Sta Barbara, Sta Catalina and Kasanyangan while the remaining MNLF have stationed themselves in the adjacent villages.

As of press time, government troops and MNLF fighters traded automatic gunfire inside some buildings of the hospital, where government troops are attempting to to rescue the hostages from the hands of the MNLF.

According to one of the leaders of the MNLF troops, Simin Husin, claimed they have around 1,000 men inside the city, 300 of those concentrated at the Barangays of Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, Kasanyagan and Rio Hondo.

The MNLF is demanding the city government to allow them to march to City Hall and to raise the MNLF flag. Their demand has been denied by the local government.

All commercial flights in and out of Zamboanga have been cancelled. Only military flights are allowed to land at the Zamboanga airport.

All sea ports have been placed in heightened alert and are now under heavy guard, with all incoming and outgoing ferries, boats and other light water craft forbidden from entering or leaving the port.

The city commercial district has virtually turned into a “ghost city” after commercial establishments, stalls at public markets, universities, government offices and restaurants have closed due to the clashes.

Military troops are now scouring the coastal sea lanes of Barangay Arena Blanco after receiving reports that several armed men belonging to the MNLF has landed to re-enforce their comrades in this city.

The government have reported an increase in the number of hostages held by the MNLF who are now holed up at a the heavily populated Barangays of Sta Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Lustre and Kasanyagan.

Fearing for their safety, residents living along the coastal Barangay of Rio Hondo, Sta Barbara and Sta Catalina have evacuated to Plaza Pershing near city hall.

Government troops consisting of police, army and marine soldiers wearing combat gear are now patrolling the city and looking for the armed MNLF who have reportedly held 40 civilians in Sta. Barbara.

Military armored personnel carrier (APC) and tanks are ready for deployment if MNLF forces do not withdraw from the city.