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Aquino issues ultimatum to rebels in Zamboanga siege

MANILA, Philippines (Xinhua) - President Benigno Aquino III has issued a virtual ultimatum to the remnants of some 300 armed followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari  to surrender or face the government's full military might. The rebels staged a pre-dawn attack on Zamboanga City on Sept.9.  

On Friday, the 12th day of fighting between MNLF forces and the combined military and police forces, Aquino ordered government troops to prepare for a protracted battle against the hardcore rebel forces who have ensconced in some villages.

Aquino told his military commander to execute "a well-thought out" operation against the hold-out rebels so as not to harm the civilian hostages.

But earlier, Aquino issued an ultimatum to the rebels to surrender. "For the remaining forces of the enemy (let me say that) life is sacred to me. You might want to assess if your life is still valuable, and it's not yet too late to bring an end to this, " he said.

Aquino, who has remained in Zamboanga City since Sept. 13, said the government will "fight violence with violence."

Aquino said he remained in the "war zone" because as commander in chief of the armed forces and the police, it was his responsibility to see to it that all government agencies would handle the crisis properly, not just the armed uprising but also the fate of tens of thousands of displaced city residents.

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At the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan, spokesman for the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), said the conflict was taking too long because of the urban terrain that security forces had to deal with.

Two days ago, limited flights to and from Zamboanga City have resumed and the Zamboanga ports were opened for the first time after the Sept. 9 siege. Several businesses have also reopened.

During the siege, Zamboanga City, which is famous for its unique blend of Christian and Muslim culture, has become a ghost city.

Meanwhile, the government is preparing the filing of rebellion charges against the MNLF rebels involved in the attack led by a certain Habier Malik, said to be a trusted Misuari commander.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas who, like Aquino, has stayed in the city since the start of the crisis, said that charges would be filed against MNLF members who were either captured or have surrendered.

According to military authorities, the 12 days of fighting resulted in 113 deaths, 172 wounded, 111 rebels either captured or have surrendered, while 172 civilian hostages rescued by government forces.

Of the 113 fatalities, 10 were soldiers, three policemen, eight civilians and 92 rebels. Of those wounded, 111 of them were soldiers, 13 policemen and 48 civilians.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said the number of evacuees has risen to about 110,000, or roughly about 10 percent of the city's population of nearly 1 million. They are now sheltered in several evacuation centers in the city.

There is still no official estimate as to the total damage in properties, both public and private, as a result of the siege but it could reach to millions of US dollars. In order to slow down the advance of government troops, the rebels have torched some 500 houses.

The government has not yet decided on whether or not to include Misuari in the rebellion charges.

Misuari, who has been charged with rebellion and plunder in the past, is reportedly hiding in the province of Jolo, the southernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago. Jolo is the cradle of the Muslim uprising in the Philippines because it was here that Misuari organized the MNLF in the early l970s.

In l996 Misuari signed peace accord with the then government of President Fidel Ramos. He was appointed first government of what is now known as the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an entity that was an offshoot of the 1996 peace pact.

When the Aquino government signed a preliminary peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Misuari felt he was being left out and announced the establishment of the so-called Bangsamoro Republik.

But Misuari, now 71, may have lost the support and sympathy of the majority of the Muslim Filipinos.

In a recent editorial on its website, luwaran.com, the MILF said that Misuari's declaration of independence and ordering the assault of Zamboanga City "is a wild move that can cause him great trouble, perhaps a gradual slipping into oblivion."

The MILF, whose present leaders were Misuari's former commanders, said that the moral legitimacy of Misuari's  leadership is seriously doubted now, adding that the Zamboanga tragedy was "not an act of brinkmanship, which great leaders often do, but rather in summary a blunder."

 

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