ZAMBOANGA, Philippines — Muslim rebels hiding behind roped-together hostages took potshots at Philippine troops Wednesday, on the third day of a deadly siege in a key southern city.
As the fighting intensified in Zamboanga city with soldiers backed by armored troop carriers hunting down snipers and rebels, thousands more residents fled, many of them taking refuge in a sports stadium.
In the nearby Santa Catalina district, troops confronted Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerrillas hiding behind about 30 men who had been roped together and made to stand on the side of a street, AFP reporters witnessed.
“Stop firing! Stop firing!” shouted the men while waving white blankets as the gunmen behind them took potshots at the soldiers.
About 180 guerrillas poured into six of the port city’s coastal neighborhoods, home to 160,000 mainly Muslim residents, before dawn Monday in a bid to derail peace talks.
Three days of fighting has left 12 people dead, including two civilians, a police officer, a soldier and eight rebels, according to the latest official tally. Another 36 people have been wounded, including three policemen and 12 soldiers.
Police also arrested two male MNLF suspects in Santa Catalina on Wednesday, wounding one of them. Officers told AFP the men were carrying bags of rice which they had scattered on the floor to reveal two hidden pistols.
In the Santa Barbara neighborhood black smoke rose into the sky as a local government building burned, but sniper fire held back a convoy of firetrucks sent to put out the blaze, an AFP photographer said.
Behind the burning building two suspected rebel snipers fell from the upper sections of a mosque after taking fire from an armored troop carrier, an AFP reporter saw.
Soldiers later poured into the building.
The fighting continued as a rival Muslim guerrilla group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), held talks with Philippine government negotiators aimed at ending a rebellion that has claimed 150,000 lives in the south of the mainly Catholic nation.
The two sides issued a joint statement at the venue of the talks in Malaysia denouncing the MNLF attack.
“Their actions intend to derail the (peace) process using violence and disinformation to spread fear and chaos,” the statement said, calling for the perpetrators to be “stopped and held accountable”.
|Philippine rebels attack 2nd southern town|