Philippine News: Zamboanga City, Muslim Rebels Hostage Crisis (UPDATE)— More than 140 hostages were freed on Tuesday, including a local police chief who was abducted by the Muslim rebels earlier in the day, according to a BBC report.
The Philippine military says it has retaken about 70% of the area taken over by rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city on the island of Mindanao.
“They [the rebels] have nearly run out of bullets. They are practically defeated,” said military spokesman Lt Col Ramon Zagala to Agence-France Presse news agency.
Television news showed tired hostages boarding buses taking them away from the conflict area after being released or escaping.
It was unclear how many more hostages were still in the hands of the rebels as the stand-off continued.
Local police chief Jose Chiquito Malayo was also freed after being abducted as he negotiated with the rebels, according to officials and local media. It was not clear how the release of Mr. Malayo and his companions came about.
Officials also said Mr. Malayo was able to persuade some of the rebels to surrender.
Government forces have been fighting battles with the rebels since September 9 after surrounding them in several districts of Zamboanga.
The rebels had taken up to 180 hostages and were reportedly using them as human shields.
Authorities say the death toll in the fighting is about 100, most of them rebels.
The military used helicopter airstrikes against the rebels on Monday, a day of heavy fighting.
BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher said there is a sense that the worst is now over.
The MNLF is one of several splinter groups fighting for independence from the central Philippine government in Manila.
The government is involved in ongoing peace talks with another Muslim rebel group, and it is believed the MNLF is angry at being left out of the negotiations. Image/AFP