Combat police forces check their comrade (C) who was hit by Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) sniper fire in downtown Zamboanga City in the Philippines on September 9, 2013. AFP / STR

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 16, 2013 (INQUIRER) By Frances Mangosing - About 250 people were reportedly taken hostage by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City on Monday, authorities said.

Colonel Adrelino Colina of Task Force Zamboanga told that some 200 civilians were being held in Kasanyangan village.

Earlier, Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said 38 people were held in Sta. Catalina village.

The mayor said 17 people were wounded in the Monday dawn attack in at least six villages.

The Zamboanga City government said there were 847 evacuees in Tetuan Central School and Tetuan Parish Church, and another 600 evacuees at Zamboanga Grandstand.

Climaco-Salazar also ordered the military and police to secure all hospitals, media offices, water utilities and commercial establishments.

The military’s Western Mindanao Command has called on all residents to “stay calm, vigilant and ready” against possible entry of MNLF members including in other parts of the Western Mindanao region.

Gen. Rey Ardo, the Wesmincom chief, said he has dispatched additional troops to Zamboanga City from Zamboanga Peninsula and Basilan — the 44th Infantry Battalion in Zamboanga Sibugay and two companies from Basilan.

“We have enough troops– the 32nd IB, Task Force Zamboanga, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Police — securing the entire city. Reinforcements (are intended) to secure to outskirts and main highway leaving and getting inside the city,” Ardo told the Philippine Daily Inquirer by phone.

Ardo said for more than three days, “we’ve been monitoring their movements and apprehended some of them last night but some managed to board commercial vessels and they were able to secure firearms from their local allies and relatives in Zamboanga City.”

Ardo said he could not give an actual number of MNLF forces who attacked Zamboanga City, but “we know it’s Habier Malik is leading the group while Nur Misuari is in Talipao (Sulu).”

Malik is a Sulu-based MNLF commander.

Police Chief Superintendent Juanito Vaño Jr., Region IX police director, in a separate report, said at least 20 heavily rebels entered Barangay (village) Sta. Catalina and held hostage 10 to 15 civilians.

“Hopefully we will be able to get the civilians and engage them properly,” Vaño said in a radio interview.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the navy men clashed with about 100 MNLF rebels, who were on board a large motorboat and eight smaller vessels off Rio Hondo, a crowded Muslim community in the port city of Zamboanga.

The pre-dawn clash later spilled into Rio Hondo as people slept, prompting scores of residents to flee, Zagala said.

Reinforcement troops and police have been deployed to help secure Rio Hondo, which is located near the downtown area of Zamboanga, a bustling trading hub in the south. With reports from Jamie Elona, Kristine Sabillo, and AP

AFP: MNLF movements monitored 3 days agoBy Frances Mangosing

MANILA, Philippines – The military has been monitoring movements of the Moro National Liberation Front three days before the encounter and standoff in Zamboanga City early Monday.

In a press briefing, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, said troops from Western Mindanao Command were deployed Sunday night specifically in areas of Rio Hondo, Sta. Barbara, Talon-Talon and Mariki on reports that MNLF gunmen would arrive there.

This led to the clash early Monday which killed one soldier, a police officer and several others.

Zagala said the troops were armed with high-caliber firearms and were able to prevent the guerrillas from reaching other villages.

“As early as three days ago [when] they came to Zamboanga City…we have prepared for possible contingencies that may happen,” he told reporters.

He said some of these MNLF members that arrived three days ago entered Zamboanga City unarmed.

“We have information that the MNLF is planning to hold mass action in Zamboanga, but again if you recall a few weeks back they did also have mass action in Davao and it was peaceful but of course we cannot [rule out] the possibility that there may be armed so we prepared for that,” he said.

The MNLF came in different groups and entered separately at different points.

“Three days ago we already monitored them coming in and they are unarmed but yesterday (Sunday) that’s the time we monitored that the armed elements are coming in and we engaged them,” Zagala said.

“We already have a finality in the peace process with them, and the last thing we want them to think is that we are harassing them and if they are entering unarmed, what we can do is monitor them only,” he also said.|

All armed forces units in the Western Mindanao area were on alert as of Sunday night, he added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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