Blasts hit Zamboanga, fire breaks out
MANILA - Fighting broke out anew between Moro National Liberation Front rebels and government troops in Zamboanga City Wednesday while a large fire has started in the conflict zone in the city.
DZMM correspondent Noel Alamar said automatic gunfire and explosions can be heard in the area, particularly on Lustre Street in Barangay Santa Catalina, starting at 9:45 a.m.
The skirmishes came more than 12 hours after MNLF fighters killed 2 soldiers during a gunfight Tuesday night. A military official said 20% of barangays Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina and Rio Hondo remain conflict zones.
Fire also broke out in Barangay Santa Catalina Wednesday morning. A firetruck tried to enter the area to quell the fire but had to go back due to intense fighting between the two sides.
Elements of the Regional Public Safety Batallion 10 have barred residents from returning to their homes.
An ABS-CBN news team was also ordered to leave the KJK building in Barangay Santa Catalina on Tuesday due to the fighting.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, Armed Forces public affairs chief, said the military is implementing a gradual constriction in the conflict areas to root out the MNLF guerillas and save the hostages.
"As we speak we continue to conduct a calibrated military operation and we will not stop until we are able to clear the area," he said in an ANC interview.
He also said the identities of 23 MNLF fighters who supposedly surrendered to Zamboanga police chief Jose Malayo on Tuesday are now being verified.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas earlier said their photos will be shown to released hostages to confirm if those who surrendered took part in the attacks against government troops.
Roxas said the group was invited to join a peace march in Zamboanga but they were caught off guard when the firefight broke out.
"Sabi nga ni Commander Usong Ugong, nung nadinig na nila yung putukan hindi na sila tumuloy at in fact lumayo sila papuntang Barangay Mampang dun sa may pampang sa mangroves at naghintay sila ng baroto para makabalik sa Sasilan. Ayon sa kanila ay sila ay inanyayahan sumali sa peace march. Hindi nila alam na magkakaroon ng putukan dito. Ganun pa man lahat eto ay i-checheck at counter check," he said in an interview on ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda.
Roxas said the number of Habier Malik's group in Zamboanga City is down to around 50-70 men.
"Sa ngayon, more or less 50-70 estimate mga MNLF rogue under Commander Malik. Nandiyan pa din sila sa Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina in an area 2 or 3 hectares kalawak pero punong puno yan ng mga bahay. Madaming structures naka-contain sila diyan at nagkakaroon ng constriction," he said.