Troops have recaptured 70 percent of the coastal areas of the southern city occupied by Muslim rebels and on Tuesday rescued nearly 80 of more than 100 hostages, as the standoff dragged to its second week.
About 64 hostages were freed or escaped during military operations
early Tuesday, the military reported. They were followed by another 14
who walked to freedom in separate batches.
"Our soldiers used selective fire to neutralize the kidnappers,"
military spokesman Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc said in a statement. He said
three soldiers died and 10 were wounded in the latest fighting in
Troops and special police forces have killed or arrested more than
100 Moro National Liberation Front rebels who occupied five coastal
villages after government forces foiled what officials said was an
attempt by the heavily armed insurgents to take control of city hall on
But about 100 rebels are still believed to be holed up. It was not immediately clear how many hostages are left with them.
Government troops were continuing a push against the insurgents but
were wary of causing any harm to the captives, military spokesman Lt.
Col. Ramon Zagala said, adding it was difficult to say when the fighting
Troops have tried to contain the clashes in the coastal outskirts of
Zamboanga, a largely Christian city of nearly 1 million people, but
suspected rebel mortar fire destroyed a car near the city's downtown
area Monday, raising fears the gunmen were attempting to divert the
Nearly 82,000 residents have fled the fighting into several emergency shelters, including the city's main sports complex.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said about 850 houses had been destroyed
amid fierce exchanges of gunfire and occasional bursts of mortar rounds
and grenades. Police said some fires may have been deliberately set by
rebels to cover their escapes.
President Benigno Aquino III is in Zamboanga, a bustling port 860
kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila, to oversee the handling of the
worst security crisis his administration has faced since he came to
power in 2010.
The Moro insurgents, led by Nur Misuari, signed a peace deal in 1996,
but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the
government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim
regions in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.
The rebels have become increasingly restive in recent months as
they've been overshadowed by a rival rebel group that engaged Aquino's
government in peace talks brokered by Malaysia. The talks have steadily
progressed toward a new and potentially larger autonomy deal for
minority Muslims in the south.