Troops, MNLF fighters in close quarter battle: OBJECTIVE: RESCUE HOSTAGES PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 24 September 2013 11:14

Areas where MNLF Misuari loyalists are boxed have shrunk as government troops are inching in and encircling the group that is still holding some hostages in the second week of the Zamboanga City crisis.

Intermittent firing took place yesterday as troops closed in and poised to engage the rebels in close quarter battle with the objective of rescuing the hostages.

At past 3 p.m. yesterday, firefight broke out at the Layag-Layag coast in Talon-Talon where MNLF fighters tried to slip out of the cordoned areas in Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo. Naval gunboats shelled the rebels along the Talon-Talon coastline with loud explosions causing many Talon-Talon residents to flee their homes.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) public affairs office chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the “constricting strategy” being implemented by the military against the remaining MNLF fighters is being carried out to safeguard the lives of the hostages.

“The area of constriction is now smaller and the forces of Commander Habier Malik only have a little area to move on,” he explained.

AFP operations are focused in Barangays Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina and Rio Hondo.

“That’s the reason why our men are fighting in close-quarters and why we have a lot of men getting wounded,” he told newsmen.

“Our goal really is to close in as much as we can so that we can eventually rescue the hostages and neutralize the (remaining) MNLF Misuari faction,” he pointed out.

The death toll in the standoff climbed to 125 as of Sunday noon.

The breakdown:

— AFP: 11 killed, 133 wounded in action

— PNP: 3 killed, 13 wounded

— Civilians: 12 killed, 49 wounded.

— MNLF: 99 killed, 72 captured and 45 surrendered.

Guzman said the number of hostages rescued is now 174 (out of the 183 taken earlier).

Captured high-powered firearms is 64 and 13 low-powered ones.

President Aquino on Sunday left for Manila after staying here in Zamboanga City for 12 days in direct command of the military operation.

The president said the immediate response of the government forces demonstrated the capability and resolve to stop atrocities similar to the attempt of the MNLF rebels in this city.

Aquino said the rebels failed in their mission since the troops immediately intercepted and engaged them in a firefight before they could penetrate the inner parts of the the city.

“Na-demonstrate ng pamahalaan, ng sandatahang lakas at kapulisan na kayang rumisponde anywhere,” President Aquino citing additional troops arrived to reinforce the soldiers and policemen already stationed in this city.

“Yong kanilang pwersa na dumating dito hindi nakabuo nagwatak-watak agad,” President Aquino added.

As the smoke began to clear,  it appears that the bulk of the MNLF forces that came to Zamboanga City is composed of two — the MNLF faction from Basilan, most of whom were deceived by Misuari to join a so-called peace caravan and march and without any intention to engage in firefights with soldiers, and the Sulu group led by militant Habier Malik that has apparently brought in stockpiles of ammunition and firearms and have prepared for armed confrontation. — See separate story)

President Aquino said the group of Misuari has lost mass-based support due to the standoff that is now on its second week.

“Yong gustong umunawa at kumalinga sa kanila ay tila napalayo pa,” the President said in a press briefing before returning to Manila.

“I believe this will wind down within the day,” he said.

Aquino also vowed to bring criminal charges against MNLF founder Nur Misuari, accused of being behind the rebel incursion.

Zagala said the armed forces backed their commander-in-chief Aquino’s latest pronouncement.

“The armed forces support the president’s statement that this is almost over,” Zagala told Agence FrancePresse. “We will work hard to finish this soonest.”

He said about 4,500 soldiers remained in the city to clear it of MNLF gunmen after two weeks of deadly battles that left hundreds dead or injured.

More than 10,000 houses were set on fire and 111,000 civilian residents fled the areas of conflict.

The military said there are now just several dozen MNLF fighters left, holding at least 20 hostages.