New Philippines fighting derails ceasefire; top leaders meet in affected city

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines Sat Sep 14, 2013 8:39am EDT

1 of 4. Government soldiers take cover on armoured vehicles as they try to assault the positions of Muslim rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), during a gunbattle in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines September 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Erik De Castro

Related Topics

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines (Reuters) - Fighting intensified on Saturday in the southern Philippines between government troops and rogue Muslim separatists, shattering a ceasefire almost immediately as it was to go into effect and leaving many residents running low on supplies.

The army said 53 people, including 43 guerrillas, had been killed in the fighting, now in its sixth day in the port city of Zamboanga. Both President Benigno Aquino and his vice-president flew into the city to monitor operations.

Dozens have been wounded and more than 62,000 people displaced, with hundreds of homes razed and a hospital still in flames. Rebels have fired on government positions and seized civilians to use as human shields.

The violence on Mindanao, the Philippines' most southern island and theatre of four decades of violence, underscores the security challenge potential investors face in the mainly Roman Catholic country despite strong second quarter figures.

It also called into question a peace deal agreed last October with a larger Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Late on Friday, Vice-President Jejomar Binay told Reuters he had spoken by telephone to Nur Misuari, leader of a rogue faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and they agreed to a ceasefire and talks to resolve the latest conflict.

Binay flew to Zamboanga and met Aquino, who had arrived a day earlier, though it was unclear what the two men discussed. Aquino, who oversaw last year's peace deal with the MILF rebels, has said nothing publicly about his vice-president's plan for talks to end the standoff.

Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said the military was unaware of any ceasefire agreement with the rogue MNLF forces. "We have not received any order. We continue our operations until we are told otherwise," he said.

Heavy fighting broke out after midnight in a coastal village as soldiers retook rebel positions, killing four guerrillas.

NEW SKIRMISHES

Sporadic fighting struck three districts of Zamboanga through the morning and early afternoon. Skirmishes were also reported for the third day on the nearby island of Basilan, with the army saying one of its soldiers had been killed.

The gunfire subsided late in the afternoon, though rebel snipers kept up fire at both soldiers and civilians who attempted to cross government lines. The military said government troops had retaken a school used as a base by the rebels in a nearby village and found seven bodies inside.

Abigail Valte, a presidential spokeswoman, told reporters in Manila, 850 km (510 miles) to the north, that the ceasefire was never implemented. She accused the rebels of launching attacks through the night.

The rogue MNLF faction involved in the fighting opposed last year's peace deal struck with the larger MILF. It had signed a separate deal with the government in 1996, but later backed out, complaining the government had failed to abide by it.

Displaced city residents have been given temporary shelter.

But government social workers said some residents trapped in two schools were running out of food as heavy fighting had pinned down relief workers delivering supplies. Banks, shops, offices and some petrol stations remained closed.

Four decades of conflict in the south have killed 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in the poor but resource-rich area. Muslims account for about 10 percent of the total population of 97 million.

(Additional Reporting By Manuel Mogato in MANILA; Editing by Ron Popeski)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
Favio wrote:
Vice President Binay had acted alone without the blessing of the President in forging a ceasefire agreement with the rebel Misuari which resulted to a humiliating failure. This is a ploy for political mileage as he is aiming for the 2016 presidency which backfired straight on his face a day after talking to the media of his accomplishment. Poor Binay who is very desperate to become a President against a strong contender Mar Roxas who is not tainted with any corruption groomed and supported by President Aquino.

Sep 14, 2013 5:44am EDT  --  Report as abuse
FRPSR wrote:
These rebel factions that have been taking antagonistic positions to the idea of revenue sharing commonly found in a republic , are not gaining sympathy , or any other credible advantage through this outrageous violence . While we as the public are not privy to the details of the coordinated , or negotiated treaties , it is the larger group that has been cooperating with the idea of gaining representative control of Mindanao . These deadly factional outbreaks are not going to derail the larger purpose of ending the brutality to two generations of generally unarmed folks , in fact they are reminiscent of detached egocentric bullying . The truth behind a faction seeking to march into a peaceful city armed to the teeth , can hardly have as its core a peaceful , productive visionary purpose . One is left with the notion of a naive , and distorted reasoning as the central functioning policy of these “Rebels” . Of course it occurs that these same folks who have merely learnt to press triggers on weapons for so many years are frightened by the prospect of adopting civilized behaviors . That these assumptions have any traction defines these “Rebels” into a more comfortable fit with the idea of bandits , inflicting control , rather than exercising it , without regard to the function of anything aside from their own comforts .
It remains to be seen how the larger factions , who are acting as cooperating members of the Republic of the Philippines assist in ending the violence . One casually assumes they would have a finer grasp of the details motivating a No-win escalation in violence , bringing either a military , or negotiated end to a slaughter of , again , largely unarmed folks .

Sep 14, 2013 8:09am EDT  --  Report as abuse
coolrajkl wrote:
these fools r fighting for what? 10% of population and they want this and that even self autonomy. Ridiculous, just declare war on the south and martial law, house to house search n destroy. No more talking, these fools using religion as an excuse but they r making their ‘own people’ of the same religion, suffer. The 10% do not support these damned mnlf, pls ask malaysia what went wrong in their brokered ‘peace’ talks with these mnlf terrorists..

Sep 14, 2013 9:08am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

Full focus