A tense hostage situation between Muslim rebels and Philippine armed forces entered its second day in Zamboanga City on the southern island of Mindanao, with authorities successfully negotiating the release of five hostages on Tuesday, according to reports by CNN.
Yesterday at least six people were killed in exchanges of gunfire between the Moro National Liberation Front and Philippine authorities consisting of both police and military personnel.
Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said, “This morning five people, including four children, who were held hostage in Talon-talon were released by the rebels,” adding that one policeman was wounded in the thigh by gunfire Tuesday morning.
Government authorities estimated the number of armed Muslim rebels at 300 in the blockaged areas of Zamboanga City, and said it is unclear how many hostages are still being held. The mainly Christian city is on the southern coast of Mindanao.
The government believes the number of hostages could be as high as 180, according to the Philippine Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas. He described the hostages as “human shields”, and said the numbers are “very soft estimates”.
Hundreds of soldiers have arrived on the scene in response to the crisis, and Roxas was flown in from Manila to supervise the operation.
He explained, “It’s hard to determine (whether) they’re hostages or just residents of the area, but we are taking these numbers quite seriously and that is why the military and the police have exercised restraint.”
He did not say if any demands had been made by the rebels.
Roxas also told the media, “There are ongoing talks, formal and informal, in various stages of maturity. We are also seeking to validate the bonafides of those presenting themselves as mediators so that we are not led astray in these talks.”
According to reports, a spokesman for the MNLF told the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper that the group was holding 35 hostages.
“We seized them by the roadside so the soldiers won’t shoot when they see us,” the spokesman said.
Climaco-Salazar released a statement saying the crisis began around 4:30 a.m. Monday when government forces clashed with armed rebels who were headed toward the city by boat.
During these clashes, six people were killed – one policeman, one navy serviceman, and four civilians, the statement said.
The authorities claim the rebels had planned to march on the city hall.
The MNLF was founded in 1971 with the aim of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in the mostly Catholic nation.
In 1996 the MNLF and the Philippine central government in Manila signed a peace deal, but some of the MNLF’s members have broken away and continue to resort to violence. Image/Google Images