Fire rages as fighting continues in Zamboanga City (video courtesy of PIA Region IX)
HEAVY FIGHTING resumed in Zamboanga City today as the city’s residents struggled to maintain a semblance of normalcy despite a siege that has already lasted four days.
Yet another district was reportedly on fire Thursday afternoon amid reports of mortar fire and gunshots between Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels and the government’s security forces.
Hundreds of MNLF rebels from Sulu and Basilan landed in Zamboanga City early Monday reportedly on orders of MNLF founder Nur Misuari. Misuari has complained that the MNLF has been sidelined in the peace talks with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front; as well, Misuari has complained that the government has reneged on its commitments made in the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF.
Government claims it has contained the rebels in several areas in Zamboanga City, but clashes continue and much of the city is still at a standstill.
Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) director Zainudin Malang said mortar shells were fired at Barangay Sta. Barbara near the Sta. Barbara Elementary School around two in the afternoon Thursday.
At the same time, the Philippine Information Agency Region IX reported a fire at Sitio Lustre in Barangay Sta. Catalina. It is not clear yet if this was a direct result of fighting between government and the MNLF. (See PIA IX video)
Malang added that heavy fighting has also broken out at an ice plant in Barangay Tetuan of the same City.
These incidents followed an exchange of gunfire in Barangays Sta. Barbara and Rio Hondo, where the MNLF are known to have holed up.
The Philippine Information Agency Region IX reports long lines forming at commercial establishments that dared to open their doors to weary Zamboanguenos. The mayor has already called on businessmen to open critical businesses as people are running out of basic necessities.
At the same time Malang said the fighting in Basilan between government and MNLF forces appear to have stopped. Reports from Basilan province, some 30 kilometers away from Zamboanga City across the Basilan Strait, indicate that government forces clashed with MNLF rebels in the city of Lamitan, to the eastern side of the province.
Malang said there were reports that five copra laborers have been caught in the middle of the conflict in Basilan, and that relatives and neighbors are still trying to extract them.