Fighting Continues in Philippine City After Standoff Ends

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MANILA -- Sporadic fighting continued Sunday in Zamboanga City, the embattled southern Philippine city where government officials a day earlier had declared an end to a three-week standoff with separatist militants.

Six rebels were killed in fighting while bomb-sniffing dogs hunted down unexploded ordnance and hidden explosive devices, officials said Sunday. An undetermined number of rebels continued to fight in the obliterated neighborhoods where the fiercest battles had taken place.

More than 200 people -- rebels, soldiers, police officers and civilians -- have been killed during the standoff, which began Sept. 9 when several hundred members of the Moro National Liberation Front entered the city to raise their flag and declare independence.

After the rebels were confronted by troops, they took more than 100 hostages and battled soldiers in five seaside neighborhoods of the city. Soldiers fought house to house to regain control of the rebel-held areas, and senior officials said in recent days that the conflict was winding down.

"The siege in Zamboanga City is over," Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said Saturday, adding that sporadic fighting could continue for two more weeks as the remaining rebels were located.

On Sunday, local and military officials at a televised afternoon briefing in Zamboanga City were peppered with questions from reporters who asked why the fighting continued after the crisis had been pronounced over.

"The pronouncement by the secretary has to do with the military accomplishment of their targets," said the mayor of Zamboanga City, Beng Climaco. She noted that once all hostages had been rescued and 90 percent of the rebels had been killed or captured, the primary military mission had been considered accomplished.

Lt. Col. Randolf Sino Cruz of the Philippine Army said Saturday that it was unclear how many rebels remained or how long the fighting might continue. "There are still a lot of stragglers in the area," he said, adding later, "We are doing our best."

The clashes in Zamboanga City displaced more than 100,000 residents and strangled the economy of what had been a vibrant trading enclave. The fighting resulted in the destruction of more than 10,000 homes, many reduced to rubble by heavy gunfire.

The army has not yet located Habier Malik, the ground commander of the rebel operation in Zamboanga City. The military is trying to determine whether Mr. Malik is among the dead rebel fighters, some of whom were hastily buried at the battle sites.

The renewed fighting erupted less than a year after President Benigno S. Aquino III signed a landmark peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the largest Muslim separatist group in the Philippines.

The peace deal raised hopes that the chronically violent but resource-rich southern Philippines might join the northern parts of the country in historic levels of economic growth and prosperity.

Though the southern Philippine island of Mindanao suffers almost daily bombings, killings and kidnapping, the recent fighting in Zamboanga took the violence to a level not seen in years and left the government struggling to maintain a fragile peace accord.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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