Palace: PH-US talks won't be affected by Zambo siege
MANILA – The Palace on Sunday said the standoff between Philippine government troops and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters would not affect the ongoing talks for increased US military presence in the country.
"Wala pa ho. Wala naman hong koneksyon ito doon sa nangyayari ngayon sa Zamboanga at malayo ho 'yan. Hiwalay po na usapin doon sa pinag-uusapan po nila doon sa framework at hiwalay po 'yung usapin ng mga insidente ngayon dito sa Zamboanga," Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
The negotiations aim to allow more US troops, ships, aircraft and other equipment to pass through the Philippines, which had hosted tens of thousands of US troops until 1992.
Philippine officials have said an increased US presence was part of Manila's efforts to build a credible defence posture as it faces territorial disputes at sea with China.
Manila accuses China of aggressively pushing its territorial claims over most of the South China Sea, including waters close to Philippine shores.
The US, meanwhile, wants arrangements similar to what it has with Australia and Singapore as it seeks to bolster its ties across Southeast Asia, partly to counter China's growing military power.
Meanwhile, Philippine troops were closing in on Muslim rebel positions and cutting off escape routes on Sunday to end a week-long standoff that has left more than 60 people dead in the southern city of Zamboanga, officials said.
Day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government troops have now seen 51 MNLF rebels killed, as well as six soldiers, a policemen and four civilians.
Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said the number of people who had fled to temporary shelters had risen to more than 69,000 by Sunday morning.
The MNLF fighters linked to the faction of Misuari, the group's founding chairman, laid siege in the southern Mindanao city as the government was on the final stage of the finalizing its peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Misuari felt left out by the deal, saying the government seemed to have abandoned the previous peace agreement it forged with the MNLF in 1996. – with Agence France-Presse