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Army rescues 123 hostages in Zamboanga siege

City police chief captured by rebels, then freed

Army rescues 123 hostages in Zamboanga siege

Government troops patrol Zamboanga in large numbers, with rebel units pinned down in various parts of the city reporters, Zamboanga City

September 17, 2013

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The Philippines army said it rescued at least 123 hostages today held by Moro National Liberation Front rebels as the siege in Zamboanga City entered its ninth day.

In a dramatic late development, with the tide turning against MNLF units who are pinned down in several parts of the city, the rebels seized city Police Chief Jose Chiquito Malayo and his two escorts before noon today. Six hours later they released him, on condition that the cornered rebels would be granted safe passage on leaving their hideout.

As Malayo walked free, 10 rebels gave themselves up, to be taken to a military camp where they will formally surrender. However, an estimated 50 rebels remain entrenched and sporadic fighting continues in the city.

“[Malayo] was monitoring the joint operation of the police and the military (when he was taken),” said army commander Lieutenant Colonel Harold Cabunoc.

Emmanuel Fontanilla, an MNLF spokesman, confirmed in a radio interview that the rebels had been holding the police chief and his escorts as "prisoners of war.”

Malayo and his men were taken to a "safe place to … ensure their security and rights as guaranteed by the Geneva Convention and international humanitarian law," he said.

Earlier in the day, at least 40 MNLF fighters and three army soldiers were killed during the heavy fighting that led to the rescue of the bulk of the hostages. 

“We are constricting enemy areas and the pressure is really strong … the enemy could no longer bear it,” said military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala as the hostages were freed.

The MNLF are still holding an unconfirmed number of hostages, said Zagala, adding that the army was conducting operations with “great care.”

Government troops have already cleared 70 percent of rebel occupied areas around Zamboanga, said Zagala, where more than 80,000 people have been affected by the fighting.

The death toll is now thought to be approaching 100. At least 86 insurgents, nine security forces members and three civilians have been confirmed dead since the siege by the Islamist Mindanao rebels started in Zamboanga on September 9.

Meanwhile, five people were wounded when two bombs exploded within 20 minutes of each other in two shopping malls in Davao, the largest city on Mindanao island, on Monday night.

Rolando Olamit, head of the MNLF Davao State Committee, denied MNLF involvement in the blasts.

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