Philippine troops clear rebels as ceasefire fails


ZAMBOANGA : Philippine troops seeking to end a six-day standoff that has killed more than 50 people in the south were clearing the remaining Muslim rebels today as a ceasefire plan collapsed.


Police estimated the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gunmen were now  holding as few as seven civilian hostages in the southern port city of  Zamboanga, compared to more than 100 a day earlier, Interior Secretary Mar  Roxas said.
His comments boosted hopes that the crisis, which had left entire  neighbourhoods razed to the ground by the gunmen and forced tens of thousands  of residents to flee, would soon be resolved.
“By today, it’s quite clear that not only is this incursion being  contained,” Roxas told reporters. “From contained it has evolved into  constriction, which is to reduce the operating space of the MNLF. Now it is  into clearing.”    
Relentless day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government  troops have killed 43 rebels while 19 others had been detained, said military  spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala.
“Right now we are optimistic that our operations are effective and that we  are delivering a significant blow to our enemies,” he told AFP.
“We hope that we can finish this calibrated response at the soonest  possible time,” he said, while refusing to give a timetable.
He cautioned that the remaining gunmen were still dangerous, with the  military limited to using light weaponry to avoid civilian casualties.
He said the military and police forces had suffered six dead while four  civilians were also killed.
The optimistic assessment of the operation came as a ceasefire plan  brokered by Vice President Jejomar Binay between the government and MNLF leader  Nur Misuari was abandoned.
“The vice president is sad that his efforts to secure the release of the  hostages in Zamboanga City did not prosper,” his spokesman Joey Salgado said in  a statement.
“Both the MNLF and the Philippine government wanted peace, but there were  terms set that were not acceptable,” he said without elaborating.
Binay, the country’s number-two elected official, followed President  Benigno Aquino to Zamboanga on Saturday to discuss the ceasefire plan with the  Filipino leader.
The standoff began on Monday, when heavily armed MNLF forces entered  Zamboanga’s coastal districts and took hostages in a bid to scupper peace talks  between another militant group and the government.
At one time the gunmen used nearly 200 civilians as human shields,  officials said.
The rebels also forced groups of the hostages to stand between them and  attacking military units.
The fighting forced 69,000 people to flee their homes, the civil defence  office said.
Nearly 500 houses were torched by the rebels, who shot at fire trucks sent  to attend to the blazes, city fire marshal Dominador Zabala told reporters.
The MNLF waged a 25-year guerrilla war for independence before signing a  peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south’s Muslim  minority.
Misuari, who has accused the government of violating the terms of a 1996  treaty by negotiating a separate deal with a rival faction, had disappeared  from public view shortly before the fighting began Monday.
The rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), is in the  final stages of peace talks with Manila and is expected to take over an  expanded autonomous Muslim region in the south by 2016.
President Aquino said the peace talks with the MILF aimed to end decades of  rebellion that had claimed 150,000 lives in the country’s Muslim southern  regions.-- AFP

A boy carries his brother as they camp out at a stadium to flee the fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels Saturday Sept. 14, 2013 in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff began Monday when about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized residents. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

hildren evacuees effected by the stand-off between Philippine government forces and Muslim rebels pose for photos at an evacuation center as the stand-off enters its sixth day in Zamboanga on September 14, 2013. Philippine troops were clearing out the last remaining Muslim rebels after a six-day operation in the south that killed dozens of militants and allowed scores of hostages to flee, officials said on September 14. AFP PHOTO / TED ALJIBE

A child sits in his temporary shelter as they camped out at a stadium to flee the fighting between the government forces and Muslim rebels, Saturday Sept.14, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. Philippine troops have started to battle their way into coastal villages in the south where Muslim rebels have held scores of residents hostage in a six-day standoff, sparking fierce clashes that have killed 56 people and sent more than 60,000 residents fleeing their homes, officials said Saturday. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

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