PHILIPPINE rebels have taken a Catholic priest and his family hostage in the southern port city of Zamboanga as sporadic fighting continued on Tuesday in several villages in Zamboanga City.
A neighbor of Father Michael Ufana said that Moro National Liberation Front rebels barged in the house of the priest in Santa Catalina village and took him hostage, including his sister and father. A local radio network, Radyo Agong, also reported the taking of priest and his sister and father, but their fate remains unknown.
Heavily armed rebels have taken positions in civilian neighborhood throughout the night and making it extremely difficult for security forces to launch an assault to free the hostages. Government negotiations with the MNLF were also continuing, but details of the talks remain unknown.
Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar of Zamboanga City previously said that more than 200 civilians have been taken captive by rebel forces, but police said only 85 people are actually being held hostage.
Salazar has suspended all classes and work on Tuesday as the crisis entered its second day. A 9-hour curfew in Zamboanga also remains enforced. Thousands of villagers have fled their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire or taken captive by rebels.
She said that troops have put up blockades in Talon-Talon village after a group of rebels and their hostages in the village of Mampang were trying to link up with a larger group of MNLF fighters in Santa Catalina.
“Per report from the police, at 3 a.m. today, some 30 armed MNLF tagging along civilians as human shields from Mampang were monitored proceeding to Santa Catalina to support their comrades. However, they were blocked by police and soldiers manning checkpoints in the area,” Salazar said, adding “authorities are undertaking steps to resolve the crisis.”
The mayor also appealed to media anew to refrain from airing sensitive information to prevent panic and confusion. “We thank the media for their extensive coverage of the incident but we have to speak with one voice as our common goal is the safety and protection of the Zamboangueno community,” she said.
She again appealed to civilians to keep safe by staying inside their homes. “Limit movements outside, as we allow our authorities to do their role in ending the conflict with no damage to lives and properties. Let us all pray for the safety of our people and our beloved Zamboanga City,” she said.
MNLF commanders said they are fighting for the independence of Mindanao, the southern region they call “Bangsamoro Republik” with Nur Misuari, their chieftain, as president.
Misuari has repeatedly accused the government of reneging on a peace accord it signed in September 1996. The attack was the second since 2001 after MNLF forces loyal to Misuari also launched an attack in Zamboanga and Sulu province and the fighting left over 100 people dead.
Just this year, Misuari ran for governor in the Muslim autonomous region, but lost. He also ran thrice as governor in Sulu province in previous years and also lost. AL JACINTO