ZAMBO CITY UNDER SIEGE: No clear solution to end MNLF hostage situation; 200 folks made human shield PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 15:01

Tension ran high at nightfall yesterday as no clear solution was ready and available to end the hostage situation in Kasanyangan and Sta. Barbara where more than 200 civilians were made human shields by some 300 heavily armed MNLF forces loyal to Nur Misuari.

Government troops and the MNLF forces holding the civilians hostage were at standoff in the two areas after engaging in clashes that killed six and wounded 24 others.

The hostages told reporters that they needed food and water.

Early in the afternoon, the MNLF commanders told radio reporters that they came here for a peaceful march to voice out their demands.

Mayor Beng Climaco said the MNLF group wants to march to City Hall to raise their flag there and declare independence from the government.

“We’re trying to contain them in Talon Talon,” said an army spokesman. “Our ultimate goal is the safety of the civilians,” he added.

Climaco said the MNLF forces were holding 200 hostage in Kasanyangan and 20 in Sta. Catalina.

Climaco lamented that the hostage victims were being used as “human shields” by the MNLF forces who arrived in the city as early as Sunday evening.

“Their main quest is to declare independence in Zamboanga. This is a non-ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) territory. We are calling a crisis committee in a while.,” Climaco told newsmen.

“The police and military in the city’s stand is, if ever there are men in uniform, they have to be apprehended because we only recognize one Philippine Army and Philippine National Police.”

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma told dzXL radio that the government’s priority is to ensure the safety of civilians.

The siege in this city started when some 300 fully armed members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Asamin Hussin under Haber Malik landed in Mariki from Basilan at dawn yesterday. They clashed with Philippine Navy commandos, killing one commando and wounding six others.

Other MNLF forces surfaced in Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina where firefight broke with Task Force Zamboanga soldiers and police troopers, killing PO3 Murphy Abilani. He was hit by an MNLF sniper.

Tension gripped Talon-Talon, Mampang and Arena Blanco where other MNLF forces spread out and seized civilians as human shield.

An MNLF commander claimed in an interview with a radio reporter that they have 2,000 armed followers in this city.

Some of the mortar shells and rocket grenades fired by the MNLF forces landed in the periphery the Zamboanga City Medical Center where soldiers made their temporary camp as they cordoned the areas going to City Hall, Fort Pilar, Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo and Talon-Talon.

Twenty four other people, including soldiers, policemen and civilians were wounded in yesterday’s siege. Some of the MNLF forces were also wounded.

At 7.a.m., Mayor Beng Climaco-Salazar suspended all classes at all levels — private and public. All offices, private and public, likewise declared no work yesterday, making Zamboanga City a virtual ghost town as all stores, malls and offices downtown remained closed.

The president of the Bankers Association declared no transactions in all local banks. Boat trips to nearby provinces and flights of all airlines were cancelled as well.

Around 8 p.m. on Sunday, six members of the MNLF were arrested in a house in Rio Hondo. Five others were also nabbed yesterday. Confiscated from their possession were two .45 caliber pistols and MNLF identification cards.

The arrested MNLFs told newsmen that they went to Zamboanga City to “update” the ongoing peace talks with the government.

They emphasized that they fully support MNLF founder anc chairman Nur Misuari who is now in Jolo, Sulu.

Among those wounded in the Sta. Barbara clash were Sr. Insp. Rey Tolosa, Jr., Arnel Sumampong, Henry Sebastian, Hamid Jarpan, Jahura Bahari, Cpl. Mihadul Ajarin and Norma Marinay.

Thousands of residents of Sta. Barbara, Rio Hondo, Mariki, Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon and Mampang evacuated and many of them were given temporary shelter at the Enriquez Sports Complex in Baliwasan. The rest are at the Tetuan Central School, Tetuan Parish Church and Talon-Talon National High School.

The MNLF attack came on the day that both the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are scheduled to resume the final leg of their peace talks.

For months now, Misuari has been making noise about the supposed failure of the peace agreement that he signed with former President Fidel Ramos in 1996. His faction wants the Aquino government to enter into another round of talks with them, a demand that is seen as an attempt to dilute the peace process between the Aquino government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).