Photo shows a military drone over the city as the fighting continued yesterday. AP MANILA, Philippines

MANILA, SEPTEMBER 16, 2013 (PHILSTAR) By Jaime Laude - Fighting intensified yesterday in Zamboanga City between government troops and the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), shattering a ceasefire almost immediately as it was to go into effect and leaving many residents running low on supplies.

The military said 55 people had been killed in the fighting, now on its sixth day, as a Marine and four rebels were killed in sporadic fighting throughout the city.

The fatalities were five government forces, three civilians caught in the crossfire, and 47 rebels.

Dozens have been wounded and more than 60,000 people displaced, with hundreds of homes razed and a hospital still in flames. Rebels have fired on government positions and seized civilians to use as human shields.

The heavy fighting shattered the ceasefire agreement brokered by Vice President Jejomar Binay with Misuari that should have taken effect midnight.

A ceasefire plan was discussed by Binay with Misuari and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin late Friday.

Binay flew to Zamboanga City yesterday, joining President Aquino and top security officials to discuss the ceasefire agreement. which the Vice President announced late Friday night.

However, Gazmin “clarified that a ceasefire has never been implemented,” presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said yesterday.

“Therefore operations continued throughout the night and will continue as necessary,” she added.

Gazmin, in an interview with ABS-CBN, insisted that any truce was dependent on a ceasefire from the rebels, who “are firing as we speak.”

Gazmin said the rebels have continued to fire in violation of the agreement.

“Everybody wants peace, to stop this without more bloodshed,” Gazmin told dzBB radio in a separate interview.

“But as we speak, there’s firing so there's no ceasefire. We agreed that government forces will not fire only if the MNLF will not open fire,” he said.

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) information chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala also said no ceasefire order has been issued.

Zagala said the troops are still under orders to continue to dislodge the MNLF rebels from the city.

Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Office Secretary Ricky Carandang said the military operations are designed to “contain and constrict Misuari's forces” in Zamboanga.

“Much as we would welcome a ceasefire, Misuari’s forces have not stopped attacking our soldiers and civilians,” Carandang added.

Some newspapers and radio stations reported that the truce was to have taken effect as early as midnight Friday but there was no sign of a ceasefire in the city yesterday.

In Barangay Sta. Barbara, rebels fired rocket-propelled grenades at about 50 soldiers on a city street, wounding several troops.

The soldiers were attacking a five-story school building where rebel snipers were taking potshots at them.

The Philippine Coast Guard in Zamboanga reported their station was also strafed.

Zagala said just over a hundred rebels were left but were holding between 50 and 100 civilian hostages in several coastal districts, where they have also set fire to many homes.

About 3,000 elite troops were advancing on MNLF positions, Zagala said.

He described the military's gains as “substantial” but refused to say which areas were retaken by security forces.

“As of now we have no ceasefire,” Zagala said. “We continue to conduct offensives to prevent them from further endangering the lives of the civilian population and destroying property.”

Zagala said the MNLF faction suffered 47 dead and 19 others had surrendered or been captured, meaning they have lost about a third of the estimated 180 gunmen who had infiltrated six coastal districts of Zamboanga City.

Five soldiers and policemen and three civilians have also been killed, while 46 members of the security forces and 24 civilians had been wounded, Zagala said.

Among the wounded were 11 Red Cross staff and volunteers who were trying to retrieve some of the wounded civilians and soldiers in Barangay Sta. Barbara. They were hit by mortar fire and grenade blasts on Friday.

Red Cross secretary-general Gwendolyn Pang said the 11 are now out of danger. She gave assurance the Red Cross would continue to assist the victims in the fighting.

About 69,000 residents have fled the fighting, said Office of Civil Defense regional chief Adriano Fuego.

Fuego said some 14,000 families are now staying in 20 evacuation sites.

He said they are also expecting more evacuees following the forced evacuation order of the city government implemented Friday.

‘He will not leave them’

President Aquino flew to Zamboanga City earlier Friday to visit government troops and some of the 24,000 residents displaced by the violence. He warned in a speech that the government would not hesitate to use force to end the crisis.

Valte said the President spent the night in Zamboanga City to oversee the security situation.

“He did not leave (Zamboanga City). The President is on standby and he will not leave them (the troops),” Valte said.

Aquino visited the Joaquin F. Enriquez Sports Complex, which was converted into an evacuation center.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said 44,000 people, or some 7,000 families, are sheltered at the sports complex. Most of them came from the six barangays occupied by the rebels.

Since the crisis broke out, Aquino said the government has mobilized to ease what the evacuees were going through.

Aquino said Gazmin, Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II “served as my eyes and ears” to be able to address the needs of the people.

He said the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Transportation and Communications and the Department of Agriculture were prepared to ensure that there would be a continuous supply of food in the area.

He added the Department of Health was also prepared, and health centers were ready to respond to even the worst cases.

Level 4

Local officials led by Mayor Ma. Isabelle Climaco-Salazar met with Aquino and expressed support for the national government to take over the situation.

Salazar said the members of the city crisis management committee (CMC) had a meeting with the President late Friday and presented their decision to allow the national government to take charge.

She said the situation was already raised to Level 4, meaning the national government is taking over the operation under the crisis management handbook.

“No foolish mistake will be made by the generals, then there should be no repeat of the Cabatangan siege. And the most important I want it to finish the crisis within the day,” Salazar said.

Salazar was referring to the November 2001 Cabatangan complex siege by the forces of Misuari that were led by his nephew, the late Julhambri Misuari.

The younger Misuari took dozens of civilians as human shields and managed to escape after they were given safe conduct pass by local authorities.

“The people do not want a repeat of the Cabatangan incident,” Salazar said.

Salazar said the CMC stressed before the President the safety of civilians during the operations.

Following the meeting with the CMC, Aquino directed the ground forces led by Western Mindanao Command chief Lt. Gen. Rey Ardo to apply “calculated” operations in resolving the crisis.

Salazar said the President got the consensus of top security officials led by AFP chief Gen. Emmanuel Bautista and Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Alan Purisima.

“And his plans are very calculated… there are options for the military to comply,” Salazar said.

The President also tasked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to lead the investigation into Misuari and his men and gather all evidence in filing charges against them.

Aquino said he learned the charges of rebellion filed against Misuari in the Cabatangan hostage crisis in November 2001 were dropped for lack of evidence.

On the other hand, AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr. said the presence of the President in Zamboanga was a big morale booster for the troops.

Tutaan denied insinuations that Aquino was micromanaging the crisis in Zamboanga City.

He said the President visited Zamboanga City to see for himself the real situation on the ground.

“The President went there to look into the situation being the Commander-in-Chief. I think that was his purpose… to look if all the necessary government actions are there,” Tutaan said.

Tutaan said Brig. Gen. Felicito Virgilio Trinidad, Joint Task Force Zamboanga commander, and Westmincom commander Ardo are directly involved in the operations without any interference coming from top security chiefs.

“Our top leaders are only in Zamboanga to see to it that what is needed by the ground troops to accomplish their mission are immediately addressed without going through the routine and circuitous military channel,” Tutaan said.

Senate President Franklin Drilon, for his part, called on the public to support the President and his officials in resolving the crisis.

Zagala, meanwhile, also gave assurance the soldiers in the area have ample provisions, denying reports that the troops have resorted to begging for food from civilian residents.

Zagala said soldiers usually don’t really mind skipping meals just to accomplish their mission.

Photographs posted on several networking sites showed some soldiers having their meals on the street with accompanying stories that they were buying their own food to augment their daily combat ration of porridge (lugaw).

“We are appealing to the media that reported that our soldiers have nothing to eat and are also running low on ammunition. It is not true. We are committed. If we could eat while on the ground, it’s not that we don’t have the food. Porridge is not included in military rations. The support of higher headquarters is complete from food, guns and bullets,” Zagala said. – With Roel Pareño, Aurea Calica, Shiela Crisostomo, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero

Indonesia wants peaceful resolution of Zamboanga conflict By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) | Updated September 15, 2013 - 12:00am 0 0 googleplus0 0

MANILA, Philippines - Indonesia yesterday underscored the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga City.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa said their government is concerned with recent developments in the ongoing armed conflict in Zamboanga City.

“As neighbors and as facilitator of the achievement of the Final Peace Agreement in 1996 between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro National Liberation Front, Indonesia urged all parties concerned to exercise restraint and ensure the safety and security of civilians,” Natalegawa said in a statement sent to The STAR by the Indonesian embassy in Manila.

“Peaceful solution is the only option that should be taken by both parties,” he said.

Natalegawa urged both parties to find a peaceful solution to the conflict and stand by the 1996 peace agreement.

“The 1996 Final Peace Agreement is a comprehensive agreement as the foundation for solving problems in the Southern Philippines for a just, comprehensive and sustainable peace,” he said.

Natalegawa said Indonesia is always ready, at the request of stakeholders, to contribute to the restoration of normalcy in southern Philippines.

The European Union also expressed concern over the conflict in Zamboanga as it called on the Misuari-led faction of the MNLF to release the civilian hostages without preconditions.

“We strongly condemn any violation of the international law and human rights of the civilian population in Zamboanga, especially those of women and children. We sympathize with the wounded and hurt, and offer our condolences to the families of the victims of this violence,” Thelma Gecolea, Public Affairs Officer of the Delegation of the European Union to the Philippines, said in a statement.

Gecolea said the EU Delegation commends President Aquino for his firm commitment to achieve peace in Mindanao.

“We urge an unconditionally and immediate ending of the violence in Zamboanga and the release of all civilians. We further urge that all parties recommit irrevocably and exclusively to the political process and ongoing negotiations to ensure a lasting, just and peaceful settlement in Mindanao,” Gecolea said.

In a statement issued by the European Union Delegation to the Philippines in agreement with the EU ambassadors in the country, the EU urged all parties to recommit irrevocably and exclusively to the political process and ongoing negotiations to ensure a lasting, just and peaceful settlement in Mindanao.

The EU expressed concern over reports of an emerging humanitarian crisis, spurned by the growing number of evacuees forcibly moving out from the area of conflict.

The EU stressed the need for all sides to recognize international rules by allowing safe access of humanitarian organizations and assistance.

The MNLF has not formally asked Indonesia or any member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to intercede in the standoff with government troops in Zamboanga.

Indonesian Ambassador Yohanes Legowo said Wednesday that Jakarta has not received formal request from the MNLF for intervention.

The MNLF under Nur Misuari waged a 25-year guerrilla war for independence before signing the peace treaty in 1996 that allowed the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

Misuari disappeared from public view shortly before the fighting broke out in Zamboanga Monday, but has accused the government of violating the terms of the 1996 treaty by negotiating a separate peace deal with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The government is in the final stages of peace talks with the MILF and is expected to take over an expanded autonomous Muslim region by 2016.

The MNLF resented being left out of the peace deal being brokered with the MILF. – With Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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