Zamboanga Hostages: Islamist Rebels Engaged Standoff


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In what appears to be an ongoing episode of violence, the AP is reporting that Islamist rebels associated with the Moro National Liberation Front in the Philippines has assaulted a series of coastal towns and taken a bunch of hostages.

The Inquirer gives more detail, including how the incident began. Several hundred MNLF guerrillas killed six people in six costal villages and took hostages in Zamboanga City on Monday in an effort to derail peace talks intended to end a 42-year-old civil war. The military is estimating around 300 people are being held as hostages.

The guerillas were attempting to overthrow the local government via an assault on the city hall, but were blocked by combined arms: tanks supported by rifle-armed infantry. Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca of the Region IX police said in a news conference that "They were trying to march [towards] the city hall and we cannot allow that..."

The mayor of Zamboanga City, Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, said that the dead included a police officer, a sailor, and four civilians while the militants had suffered much worse. "We are in close coordination with our police and military authorities and everything is being done to solve the crisis the soonest possible time with minimal damage to lives and properties," she said of the ongoing standoff.

Over 150,000 people have died in the conflict in spite of many attempts to end the fighting. Rudimentary peace talks have taken place many times in the last 40 years, but each one seems slightly more futile than the last, particularly with the recent hostage standoff being seen as message from the MNLF leader, Nur Misuari.

"Misuari’s motive is to convey a message… (that) the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the MILF will no longer guarantee the end of war," said Rommel Balaoi, executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research in Manila.

Besides the obviously violent message, Misuari sent a literal message to the Philippine government conveying his wishes last month: "To the Philippine government, I think our message is already quite clear — that we don’t like to be part of the Philippines anymore."

[Image via a YouTube video from the Inquirer that was basically a slideshow of images]