Gunbattle, fire break out as crisis enters 10th day: PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 19 September 2013 11:41

Gunbattle continued yesterday and another big fire broke out as government forces were zeroing in on smaller areas in Sta. Catalina and Sta. Barbara where remnants of the MNLF Misuari faction were still holed up with more than a dozen hostages.

Troops moved slowly into the rebel positions careful against booby traps, bombs or landmines that may have been setup by the rebels.

The Zamboanga City crisis entered the 10th day yesterday with a number of business establishments started to open in areas outside the conflict areas as tension has eased.

As of yesterday government forces have retaken 80 percent of the areas earlier controlled by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters, according to Philippine National Police (PNP) deputy director for operations, Felipe Rojas, Jr.

“If we’re talking percentages, we estimate MNLF presence in only about 20 percent. Most of the MNLF had either surrendered or had been killed,” Rojas told newsmen.

He, however,did not identified the areas still held by the rebels.

Several hostages had been either freed or managed to escape  while the government implemented a calibrated response to the MNLF.

Rojas said they are just focusing on one area where shots were heard yesterday, though not as frequently in past days.

He also said that the PNP is now starting its clearing operations with search efforts focused on improvised explosive devices.

Troops have captured a stronghold in Lustre St. believed to be the base from which MNLF commander Habier Malik was holed up.

The military took control of KGK Building, but the shot-up building was empty, with not even bodies of slain or wounded MNLF fighters found.

Rojas said they are monitoring one area for MNLF presence but did not elaborate.

Military information chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told newsmen that they believe Malik is still in the city and is “moving from house to house.”

“We believe that Commander Malik is still here [Zamboanga City] and that now they are currently moving from house to house,” Zagala said.

But Zagala refused to disclose the exact location of Malik, even as he assured the public that the military is fully committed to finding the elusive MNLF leader.

“Our forces continue to press on and push them out of the city ... We will finish this problem at the soonest possible time,” Zagala said, while sounding a note of caution: “The fighting is not over yet.”

The Philippine Navy on Tuesday intensified its blockade along Zamboanga City’s coastlines,

The Navy deployed 28 ships and two Islander aircraft for the cordon, but declined to give operational details.

Also, teams from Marine Landing Battalion-3 are watching possible escape routes the MNLF may take.

MNLF reinforcements reportedly arrived in Mampang on Tuesday and seized City Police Chief Sr. Supt. Jose Chiquito Malayo.

He was freed hours later.

Malayo, however, adamantly denied he had been abducted. Rather, he had walked into the MNLF lines in order to ask them to release the hostages and for them to stop fighting.

The latest fire incident, the 11th since Sept. 10, was in Barangay Rio Hondo, site of the military clearing operation against MNLF forces.