THE recent Zamboanga siege involving 300 members of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to Nur Misuari was planned carefully by the group for nearly nine months, a senior police official disclosed on Tuesday.
“We have received reports that they [MNLF] have started training and preparing for this [attack]as early as January,” Deputy Director General Felipe Rojas, PNP deputy chief for Operations, Rojas told reporters during a press briefing in Camp Crame on Tuesday.
The PNP official said that MNLF rebels have started stockpiling weapons and ammunitions in Zamboanga City and other areas in preparation for their plan of ‘declaring’ their own independence.
Rojas added that MNLF members in Sulu started their journey to Zamboanga City on September 6 and on the next day, MNLF members based in Basilan also began their move towards Zamboanga City.
“Their [MNLF] original is to march to the [Zamboanga] city hall and raised their flag… but, this did not happen and our troops, the navy was able to intercept them at the sea where we lost one frogman,” Rojas said.
The PNP official added that MNLF forces loyal to Misuari also planned to launch simultaneous and similar activity in outlying provinces more particularly in Jolo, Sulu a known bailiwick of the group during their rebellion in the 70’s.
“But this did not materialize as the local government of Sulu led by Governor Sakur Tan and his people [strongly]opposes this and they said they will not allow them [MNLF] to raise their flag in Jolo,” Rojas said.
“We have cleared at least 50% and it could take us two more weeks to complete the clearing operations… and we are doing our best to regain the normalcy of the situation in Zamboanga City,” Rojas he added.
More than 200 people, including 12 civilians, were killed in the three weeks of fighting between government troops and MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City while more than a hundred rebels have been captured or surrendered.
The MNLF have also held hostages and used some 194 civilians as human shields.
The PNP official said that they are still verifying reports that Ustadz Habier Malik, the commander of the group that attacked Zamboanga City and loyal supporter of Misuari, have been killed in the fighting.
“We have reports that he was injured in the fighting and that he was hit in the left shoulder… but, we are still verifying if he is indeed among those killed in the fighting, a lot of rebels were already buried,” Rojas said.
The PNP official said that they have also received reports that Misuari is moving from one place to another apparently trying to avoid and escape the wrath of relatives of some MNLF members that were killed in Zamboanga City. ANTHONY VARGAS