Renewed fighting erupts as Zamboanga crisis enters third day
Fighting raged anew between government forces and rogue Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels erupted Wednesday morning as the Zamboanga crisis entered its third day.
This, as the military also tightened security in Basilan and Sulu after it was monitored that MNLF rebels were also monitored massing up in remote areas of the said island provinces.
Military sources said that more than 300 MNLF fighters and their supporters were monitored to have consolidated in the hinterlands of Sulu Monday night allegedly with the plan to hoist their flag in the provincial capitol.
In Basilan, a military officer said about 200 fully armed MNLF rebels have massed up outside Lamitan town.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office (PAO) chief, said there is no ceasefire with the MNLF despite orders to its troops to stand down to allow the crisis management committee to resolve the problem peacefully.
Zagala stressed their paramount concern is the safety of the civilians. The military on Tuesday said the Moro rebels were believed holding 160-180 hostages.
When asked about the fresh fighting in the city, Zagala said the rebels were trying to do some harassment and the government forces just responded.
Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, Jr., the AFP spokesman, said sporadic fighting occurred Wednesday at Barangay Sta. Barbara.
“Nagpaputok lang sila, hindi naman exchange of fire. . . there are reported fires coming from the (MNLF) Misuari breakaway group,” he said.
Meanwhile, Information gathered from the field showed that the firefight at Barangay Sta. Barbara, which is located several hundred meters away from the city, occurred around 9:40 a.m.
At around 11:00 a.m., an explosion reportedly occurred at Martha Drive in Barangay Catalina.
Fighting broke out anew around 3:30 p.m. when troops from the 3rd Marine Battalion encountered members of the MNLF breakaway group at Barangay San Roque.
A military source said the MNLF fighters engaged by the Marine troops were the same group that came from Barangay Sta. Barbara where a fighting also erupted in the morning.
The MinHRAC, on the other hand, said residents of Barangay San Roque have evacuated to a church next to the San Roque Elementary School after a group of armed men were sighted in the area.
MinHRAC said the residents were secured by barangay officials. However, one of the armed barangay tanods (village watchmen) was allegedly “mistaken by soldiers as an MNLF member and was shot.”
Authorities have yet to confirm this information.
Reports also showed that establishments and homes near and around the Zamboanga City Airport have closed their doors as fighting earlier in the day allegedly reached Canelar Street and Nunez Extension.
Another report indicated that a barangay hall in Barangay Sta. Barbara was razed by armed men in civilian clothes, believed to be rogue MNLF rebels.
Meanwhile, the AFP PAO chief stressed the breakaway MNLF group of Misuari should be held accountable for the Zamboanga crisis, saying “they’s broken our laws.”
When told that the rogue MNLF group spokesman has made a statement that they will release hostages if the military will withdraw, Zagala said: “As far as we are concerned, as far as the AFP is concerned, we have a mission there, and we have a duty to our country.”
The official noted that the Misuari breakaway group is armed and hostile and has broken our laws, destroyed the peace, and put in danger not just soldiers but innocent civilians.
“So definitely as an organization, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has a constitutional mandate to protect the people. . . so this condition they are asking (is) unattainable,” he added.
He further emphasized that the military’s end goal is to prevent followers of Misuari from escaping.
The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC), a non-government organization (NGO), also said they have received calls from residents of Barangay Rio Hondo informing them that they (residents) are now going hungry but cannot leave their areas for fear of getting caught in the crossfire.
“To reach the evacuation camps in the downtown area, they would need to cross the frontline,” said the MinHRAC report.
“MinHRAC is reiterating that the humanitarian situation has not stabilized, that there are in fact civilians still trapped in the affected barangays, who wish to make it to the evacuation camps but cannot do so because of lack of guarantee about their security on the road,” said the human rights group in its report.