Published: September 11, 2013
Zamboanga Crisis, Even as dozens of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters have remained holed up in some Zamboanga City towns with their hostages, government troopers are holding off offensive operations to give way to negotiations and prevent further bloodshed.
This was according to Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman, who said security forces have surrounded some 180 MNLF fighters entrenched in barangays Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon and Sta. Barbara.
“At the moment the AFP is standing down to pave the way for possible negotiation. This is being done by the crisis monitoring committee. We want to assure everyone that we are doing whatever we can to ensure that there will be a peaceful resolution to the crisis,” Zagala said.
Intelligence reports showed that in Barangay Talon-Talon, a certain commander Ugong and 30 followers were holding 20 civilian hostages.
Another group of around 18 MNLF gunmen led by a certain Asahim Hussein was reportedly providing support to Ugong’s group.
In Barangay Sta. Barbara, some 80 to 90 gunmen led by Sulu-based MNLF commander Habier Malik were holed up with 20 civilian hostages.
Malik’s group was reportedly being backed up by another band of 30 rebels holding 80 civilian hostages.
In the nearby barangay Sta. Catalina, MNLF leader Ismael Dasta and 80 men were keeping 36 hostages.
“These coastal villages fronting Basilan are known enclaves of MNLF integrees and their families. The number of the MNLF fighters there could easily increase to more than a thousand if attacked by ground troops,” a former Zamboanga-based senior intelligence officer who declined to be named said. The villages are thickly populated where unlicensed firearms – many high-powered – are in abundance, he said.
“Most of the residents in these villages, if not MNLF integrees, are close relatives. A military option to resolve the two-day standoff would be bloody. The military and police leadership in Zamboanga should know this,” he said.
He said the only solution to the standoff is to “allow the MNLF rebels a peaceful withdrawal from these areas.”
An assault, he added, would only lead to an escalation of the crisis.