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Zamboanga siege enters second day

Combat police forces check their comrade (C) who was hit by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) sniper fire in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013. A group of 100 heavily-armed Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks launched a major attack that shut down the busting southern Philippine city on September 9, authorities said.  (AFP PHOTO / STR)

Combat police forces check their comrade (C) who was hit by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) sniper fire in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013. A group of 100 heavily-armed Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks launched a major attack that shut down the busting southern Philippine city on September 9, authorities said. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

ZAMBOANGA CITY – People in Zamboanga City continue to live in fear as government troops and gunmen of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) continue their sporadic armed confrontation at Barangay Sta. Barbara, a few meters away from City Hall, the seat of the local government.

Around 600 MNLF gunmen have occupied the adjacent Barangays of Sta. Catalina, Rio Hondo, Mariki, a part of Talon-Talon and Kasanyangan in support of their comrades who have positioned themselves at Barangay Sta. Barbara.

MNLF forces at Barangay Sta Barbara have stationed themselves in a mosque, concrete residential houses, elementary schools and high rise buildings, acting as snipers and shooting government troops when sighted.

At 3 a.m. Tuesday, some 30 heavily armed MNLF troops, using civilians as human shields from Barangay Mampang, were spotted proceeding to Barangay Sta. Catalina to support their comrades but were blocked by policemen and soldiers from Task Force Zamboanga (TFZ) who were manning checkpoints in the area.

On Tuesday morning, an exchange of gunfire between gov’t and MNLF forces at Barangay Sta Barbara resulted to the wounding of one PO2 Baquina. He was immediately bought to the hospital for treatment.

The Zamboanga City Regional Hospital, known to many as the Zamboanga General Hospital, has virtually turned into a soldiers camp as soldiers and policemen are now occupying the hospital to prevent the MNLF from moving closer to City Hall.

Commercial airlines have halted flights into the since Monday, stranding thousands of travellers. The local ports in this city have also blocked ships from leaving and docking at the port.

City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco had earlier said that classes in all levels, both public and private institutions as well as work in all offices remain suspended in view of the current crisis. Only the offices providing frontline services like social welfare, city administrator, city mayor’s office, city engineer’s office and city health office have work.

As of press time, the city chief executive said that casualty count remains at 4 killed and 14 injured.

As for the evacuees, records from the City Social Welfare Office indicates that that there are about 174 families with 1,099 individuals housed at Tetuan Parish, 50 families with 200 individuals at Tetuan Central School, 25 families with 115 individuals at ICAS-Tetuan, 231 families with 1,071 individuals at the Don Joaquin F Enriquez Sport Complex.

The police also reported that there are 467 evacuees recorded at St Ignacio Church located at Barangay Tetuan, coming from Barangay Sta. Catalina, Barangay Kasanyangan, Barangay Sitio Waray and Ortega Drive, Tetuan. Tetuan Central School has housed 300 families coming from the different Sitio’s of Barangay Tetuan.

Climaco reported that the casualties remained at four killed and 14 wounded. Number of hostages, per Zamboanga City Central Police Office (ZCPO) report is 87 – in Kasanyangan, 20 in Sta. Catalina mosque, 20 in Talon-Talon mosque, 10 in Camacop Sta. Barbara. There are also an undetermined number of hostages at SDK building in Barangay Sta Catalina and the Fernandez store in Barangay Lustre.

Authorities are undertaking steps to resolve the crisis but would not divulge details of the operations.

A combat police force sniper gets into position to confront Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013. A group of 100 heavily-armed Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks launched a major attack that shut down the busting southern Philippine city on September 9, authorities said. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

A combat police force sniper gets into position to confront Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013. A group of 100 heavily-armed Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks launched a major attack that shut down the busting southern Philippine city on September 9, authorities said. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

A former MNLF hard core leader of Sulu province turned legislator appealed to the MNLF fighters who invaded the city to refrain from using civilians as human shields.

“I appeal to the MNLF fighters who are now in Zamboanga City to refrain from using civilians as human shields,” Sulu 1st Dist Rep Habib Tupay Loong said.

Rep Loong also delivered a privilege speech at the House of Representatives on Tuesday calling the national government to seriously address the crisis in Zamboanga City.

Loong said the crisis in Zamboanga City has driven away people from their homes in fear and panic to escape the horror of conflict and the consequence becoming human shield and hostages.

“And as a consequence, offices and classes in the City have already been suspended. Airline flights to and from the city have also been cancelled. My heartfelt sympathy to the innocent victims of this attack,” Rep Loong said.

If the Philippine government is not alarmed by this recent unfolding events in the region, political leaders of Sulu are disturbed and deeply worried that the Zamboanga attack may eventually develop into something worse compared to theFebruary 7, 1974 attack in the town of Jolo by the MNLF forces which resulted in the razing of the town of Jolo and hundreds of casualties on both sides, both military and civilian, the displacement of hundreds of residents to neighboring communities and the loss of hundreds of millions of pesos in economic damage, Loong said in his speech delivered Monday night at the lower house.

Climaco said the imposition of curfew from 8 p.m. on Monday to 5 a.m. Tuesday was smoothly implemented with no apprehensions or violations recorded by the police.

The curfew only allows people working directly in managing the situation to go around the city. The curfew exemption includes those in the medical profession as well as those working for the evacuation efforts and the distribution of relief goods. Anyone seen out during the curfew will be invited for interrogation.

“On this light, we advise people to stay in your homes, do not go out of the streets unless it is of utmost importance. The police and military are properly handling the situation,” she said.

Rep. Ruby Sahali in the lone congressional district of Tawi-Tawi said that “as a mother, I ask that we keep our calm and take a moment to pray to Allah for peace and that nonviolence will reign in all of us as we pray to resolve our differences and misunderstandings.”

“We do not condone blood shed and fear of arms to innocent civilians caught in the middle of this undertaking. Ya Allah please spare the innocent civilians from bloodshed,” she added.

The MNLF has reiterated their demand for the city government to allow them to raise the MNLF flag at city hall, which symbolizes their independence from the Philippine republic.

The city government said that it would never allow the MNLF to raise their flag at city hall, considering that there is only one legitimate government in the Philippines – the Philippine Republic.