MNLF rebels storm Basilan as skirmishes continue in Zamboanga



ZAMBOANGA CITY – One civilian was killed as fighting erupted on Thursday between suspected Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrillas and security forces in Lamitan City in Basilan, officials said.

The fighting in Basilan erupted on the fourth day of sporadic fighting between MNLF fighters and government troops in Zamboanga City.

Zamboanga Vice Mayor Roderick Furigay said the fighting erupted in the village of Colonia. “One civilian was killed and another is wounded in the attack,” he said.

Sirens sounded in Lamitan, warning villagers that rebels have entered the city. The Mindanao Human Rights Action Center said as many as 3,000 people have fled their homes and sought refuge in schools.

There were reports that Abu Sayyaf rebels, whose group is tied to al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya, joined the raid.

Prior to the raid, MNLF and Abu Sayyaf rebels also attacked a military detachment in the village of Magcawa in Tipo-Tipo town, according to Capt. Jefferson Somera, a spokesman for the 1st Infantry Division.

He said three soldiers were wounded in the clash with some 150 rebels under Puruji Indama, Isnilon Hapilon, Basir Kasaran and Nurhassan Jamiri.

“We were able to repulse the attack and we still don’t know if there were casualties on the enemy side,” he told The Manila Times.

The clashes in Lamitan and Tipo-Tipo town occurred as security forces also battle rebels who occupied several villages in Zamboanga City since September 9.

In Zamboanga, thousands of soldiers and policemen, backed by helicopters and armored vehicles skirmished with about a thousand rebels occupying the barangays of Rio Hondo, Mampang, Santa Catalina and Santa Barbara.

The clashes were so near downtown Zamboanga that the area has virtually became a garrison because of the presence of so many troops.

A huge fire broke out twice in Santa Catalina and Santa Barbara village near Rio Hondo and black smoke billows out from those areas where heavy fighting had been reported.

More than 13,000 people had fled the fighting in Zamboanga, and the heavily armed rebels were still holding more than 100 people, including a Catholic priest and his family, hostage in Zamboanga.

The presence of MNLF snipers and the captives have made it more difficult for troops to go near the gunmen and rescue the hostages.

Snipers were also shooting at helicopters hovering above the villages. US troops helping the military fighting terrorism in southern Philippines also deployed a spy plane in Zamboanga City and had been flying low every night since the crisis erupted.

Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar said the government was negotiating with the MNLF to end the crisis that had already killed at least six people.

MNLF rebels under Misuari claim they are fighting for independence of Mindanao and has renamed the troubled region as Bangsamoro Republik, referring to Muslim homeland.

Salazar said she spoke with Misuari on the phone and he strongly disowned the actions of his lieutenant Haber Malik, the leader of the rebel group that stormed Zamboanga.

One of the hostage takers, Pol Aukasa, has told a radio network Radyo Agong, that his group came from Basilan and is under MNLF leader Ismael Dafta. “We have 40 hostages here with, including a pastor (David Nefras) and they are all safe here,” he said.

He also allowed Nefras to speak, who confirmed there were 40 of them, including a dozen women. “We are okay here and we are being treated well. We have enough rice in the house where we are staying, but we fear for  our safety because of the bombings and sniping  (of government troops),” Nefras said.

The region had been part of the vast Muslim rule until 18th century, but Mindanao is now largely home to about 18 million Christians with only about 4 million Muslim population and ethnic tribes. AL JACINTO



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