By Kevin M. Mathewson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines — An estimated 158 people have been killed, including 15 members of the military, five police and 13 civilians, since fighting broke out between Philippine soldiers and separatist rebels.
A majority of those killed, roughly 125, were members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The fighting began more than two weeks ago in Zamboanga City when a large number of MNLF rebels came ashore. The rebels took nearly 180 people hostage causing Philippine security forces to move in.
The majority of the captives have now been freed, but authorities believe the rebels could still be holding up to five people hostage, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, a military spokesman, said Wednesday.
As a result of the fighting over 1000 buildings have been destroyed, driving at least 80,000 local residents from their homes. Continued sporadic fighting has closed schools and halted transit.
“The Zamboanga crisis has laid bare the inherent vulnerabilities of Philippine government in providing security to its citizens as well as instituting durable peace in Mindana,” Asia Times Online reported.
President Benigno Aquino III has issued an ultimatum for the rebel front’s founder, Nur Misuari, to surrender, warning that the government is prepared to use additional force. The Philippine government has already deployed more than 3,000 police and soldiers.
The Philippine government has been struggling with Muslim rebels since the MNLF was founded in 1971, with at least 120,000 estimated to have died in fighting. The MNLF was created with the aim of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in the mainly Catholic Philippines.
The MNLF signed a peace deal with the central government in Manila in 1996, but some of its members have broken away to continue a violent campaign.
For further information, please see:
CNN – Death toll climbs as army, militants fight on in the Philippines – 26 September 2013
Los Angeles Times – Battle drags on between Philippine troops and Muslim rebels – 25 September 2013
Aljazeera – Deaths as battle drags on in Philippine city – 25 September 2013
The Big Story – 6 MORE DIE AS FIGHTING DRAGS ON IN PHILIPPINE CITY – 21 September 2013