|Muslim extremists trade fire with Philippine troops
Muslim extremists seized dozens more hostages and traded gunfire with Philippines troops today, in the second day of a stand-off after mounting an attack on a southern city, officials said.
Gunshots rang out at dawn on the coastal outskirts of Zamboanga, in a confrontation between the government and up to 300 gunmen from the Moro National Liberation Front aimed at derailing peace talks.
The extremists seized 20 hostages at first, but Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar said they were now holding 170 people in six villages where they are holed up.
The gunmen, followers of by MNLF founder Nur Misuari, poured into six coastal villages Monday before mounting an assault on Zamboanga, a city of nearly one million people.
Misuari has declared “independence'' for the Muslim southern regions of the mainly Catholic Philippines and called on his followers to besiege government installations.
The initial attack killed six people, wounded 24 others and forced about 1,500 residents to flee their homes, according to the mayor.
Negotiators were now trying to convince the gunmen to release the villagers, said Muktar Muarip, a local Muslim community leader in talks with the extremists.
He said the gunmen had released four women and a child in the early hours today.
“We won't hurt them. We just want to hold a dialogue for peace,'' Amin Adjirin, one of the gunmen's leaders, told local radio station DXRZ in an interview.
Security forces have formed a cordon around the villages, and are also patrolling out to sea on the margin of the settlements which lie about a kilometer from Zamboanga city.
The fighting early today was concentrated on the village of Santa Barbara, where soldiers positioned behind an armored troop transport traded fire with snipers hidden among the houses, a local reporter told AFP.