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Army looks to 'neutralize' last Zamboanga rebels

President Aquino rejects safe passage deal for Islamic insurgents

Army looks to 'neutralize' last Zamboanga rebels

A soldier escorts two hostages from the site of a standoff in Zamboanga (AFP photo) reporters, Zamboanga City

September 18, 2013

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Philippines soldiers were given orders to “neutralize” the 30 to 40 remaining Muslim rebels holed up in Zamboanga City today as the military said their stand was coming to an end.

Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari reportedly asked for safe passage for the rebels back to island strongholds, but President Benigno Aquino rejected the plea.

Pinned down in Zamboanga, the remaining rebels were warned today that they would be killed or captured unless they surrender. Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said that soldiers had blocked strategic escape routes to the sea.

"They are not able to sustain (the fighting). They are conserving ammunition. The momentum is ours," he said.

Despite a lull in fighting, the toll was confirmed at 93 rebels dead along with 11 soldiers, three policemen and seven civilians.

More than 170 MNLF soldiers have surrendered and 152 hostages have been freed from the rebels with less than 100 people still captive.

"We can attribute (the waning resistance) to the number of arrested and killed," military spokesman Brigadier-General Domingo Tutaan said during a press briefing.

National Police deputy director for operations Felipe Rojas Jr said that "percentage-wise," the rebels were still in control of 20 percent of territory they captured last week.

In Manila, members of the trade union Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) held a protest rally on Wednesday morning to condemn the fighting in Zamboanga.

Roger Soluta, secretary general of KMU, said that the conflict was a smokescreen amid recent government corruption scandals

He accused the government of continuing peace talks with one group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) as others – including the MNLF – are left out in the cold.

"Instead of addressing the root causes of rebellion, it is employing divide-and-rule tactics against the armed insurgent groups,” said Soluta.

Mehol Sadain, member of the government panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), however, said the issues being put on the negotiating table with the MILF do not only cater to one group.

“What we have been negotiating for the length of the peace process is for the whole of Bangsamoro (the Muslim area of Mindanao under dispute),” said Sadain, who is also the secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos.

The government and MILF peace panels are in Kuala Lumpur to resume discussions on the remaining annexes on power sharing and normalization which make up the ongoing agreement under negotiation.

Meanwhile, the government has called for the completion of an implementation review process of the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF.

The review process, which started in 2007, is being facilitated by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

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