Day 3: Misuari forces insist on 3rd party

MILITARY ZONE. Soldiers in Zamboanga City. Photo by EPA

MILITARY ZONE. Soldiers in Zamboanga City.

Photo by EPA

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Gunshots continued and classes remain suspended here and nearby Basilan province on Wednesday, September 11, as the standoff between government forces and followers of Nur Misuari entered its third day. 

Some department stores decided to open, but banks are still closed. Misuari's men continued to exchange fire with soldiers and policemen in one village, Barangay Sta Barbara, where suspected leader Habier Malik is said to be holed out.

The bloody standoff that began September 9 has killed 4, wounded 14 and dislocated 4,400 residents.

Government has sent its own emissaries to Malik and his men, but one government official told Rappler Malik is still insisting on getting a third party - preferably an international organization - to end the crisis.

The crisis committee met Tuesday night, September 10. Among those who attended were Interior Secretary Mar Roxas and Armed Forces chief of staff Gen Emmanuel Bautista.

The government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Rappler that Misuari's men continue to toe a hardline position. "They want a third party," the official said. Some of the MNLF members now occupying the villages were told to join a peace caravan, not a siege, he added. "There was a lot of disinformation," he added.

On Day 1 of the siege, Misuari's spokesman Emmanuel Fontanilla already said they wanted the Indonesian embassy to intervene in its capacity as the third-party facilitator of the tripartite review on the 1996 peace agreement.

Misuari's followers also want the Indonesian government to activate the Organization of Islamic Conference's (OIC) "ceasefire committee," warning that the conflict could reach as far as Sabah if it's not addressed soon.

Indonesia is the chair of the OIC-Peace Committee for Southern Philippines (OIC-PCSP). The MNLF is a member of the OIC, which brokered the talks between the government and the rebel group that led to the signing of the Tripoli Agreement in 1976 and the 1996 peace pact.

Trapped

The MNLF is opposed to the present peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a breakaway group of the MNLF. They want to re-open talks with the government over what they said were unimplemented aspects of the 1996 peace agreement.

A military briefing for President Benigno Aquino III showed that at least 180 MNLF troops are spread out in Barangay Sta Barbara, Sta Catalina, and Talon-Talon, holding 163 hostages as of Tuesday, September 10. 

At least 81,000 residents are trapped inside the military-police blockade that was set up to contain the 3 villages.

Malik was earlier sighted in Sta Barbara. Intelligence reports say he leads 80 to 90 MNLF troops and holds 20 hostages there. 

A second commander positioned very close to Malik in Sta Barbara holds the biggest number of hostages — 87 residents. He leads 30 MNLF troops.

Malik and the second commander are the ones closest to the Zamboanga City Hall, where the MNLF wants to hoist its flag and declare independence from the government. The 3 other MNLF commanders, based on the intelligence reports, are Commander Ugong, Commander Ustadz Asamin Hussein, and Commander Ismael Dasta.

Commander Ugong and Commander Ustadz Asamin Hussein are both in Barangay Talon-Talon. Commander Ugong leads 30 troops and holds 20 hostages. Commander Hussein leads 18 troops, but he doesn't hold a single hostage, based on the report.

Commander Ismael Dasta, on the other hand, leads 80 troops and holds 36 hostages, according to the report. - with reports from Richard Falcatan/Rappler.com