Muslim rebels in Zamboanga stand-off agree to ceasefire

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 2:22am

A Muslim rebel leader has accepted a ceasefire to allow talks on ending a five-day hostage crisis in which his followers have held more than 100 people in a southern port city, the Philippines' vice president said yesterday.

The stand-off began Monday when about 200 fighters from a Moro National Liberation Front rebel faction stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized residents. Twenty-two people, including 15 rebels, had been killed in sporadic clashes between the guerrillas and troops who had surrounded them, the military said.

Vice President Jejomar Binay said rebel leader Nur Misuari agreed to a truce late yesterday and he relayed the news to Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin, who has been helping deal with the crisis in Zamboanga.

"The details of a peaceful settlement can be thrashed out with a ceasefire in place," Binay said.

President Benigno Aquino had earlier flown to Zamboanga to visit government troops and some of the 24,000 residents displaced by the violence. He warned in a speech that his government would not hesitate to use force to end the most serious security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.

"There are lines they should not cross," Aquino said of the rebels.

He said the government would be obligated to use "the force of the state" if those lines were crossed.

Fighting broke out again in Zamboanga's Santa Catalina village yesterday, and ABS-CBN TV reported that voices presumably of hostages were heard shouting "cease fire, cease fire!" One government soldier was reportedly wounded.

A mortar fired by the rebels landed on a street in front of the government hospital in Santa Catalina. A photographer saw at least six people wounded, including four Red Cross personnel and two soldiers.

The wounded people were rushed away on stretchers and an ambulance.

Four fires raged in different parts of Zamboanga. Officials said the rebels could be setting them as diversions.