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'Overwhelming' force deployed in Zamboanga City

MANILA, Philippines - The military has deployed what it described as an “overwhelming” force in Zamboanga City even as it remains on standby to pave the way for a peaceful resolution of the hostage crisis.

A naval blockade composed of seven ships has been set up to prevent Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) supporters in Basilan and Sulu from entering the city.

Navy spokesman Lt. Commander Gregory Fabic said four multi-purpose attack craft, two patrol gun boats and a diesel fast boat have been tapped to conduct patrols in Zamboanga City’s coastal villages.

These vessels are supported by four units of elite troops from the Naval Special Operations Group. Around 300 Marines have also been deployed to serve as ground forces.

Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said thousands of personnel from the military and the police are now securing the area.

When asked why the need for such big force to address a crisis perpetrated by about 180 MNLF members, Zagala said:  “The more troops we have the, better we can secure the area.”

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“I believe this overwhelming number of troops will bring confidence back to the people of Zamboanga City,” he added.

President Aquino, for his part, is optimistic that the situation would be kept under control

“Yesterday (Sept. 9), we had adequate (forces). Today (Sept. 10), it’s overwhelming. We airlifted several troops including our elite forces and they are now in Zamboanga City,” he said on the sidelines of the ASEAN Navy Chiefs Meeting in Makati Tuesday.

Zagala said they would not conduct offensive operations while the negotiations are underway. Such stance, however, does not prevent the security forces from defending themselves when attacked.

“We have cordoned (off) the area and we are on standby to pave the way for the negotiations but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we will leave,” Zagala said.

“We remain there because our primary mission is to contain them,” he added.

Security officials claim that they have successfully prevented a spillover of the clashes to nearby provinces.

More than 10,000 persons or about 2,000 families have been displaced by the clashes based on the latest data by the Office of Civil Defense Zamboanga Peninsula.

Meanwhile, security forces in Davao, where the MNLF has presence, said the situation in the region remains normal.

“There is no imminent threat or danger monitored as of this report. Everybody is hoping for peace in the region,” said Maj. Jake Obligado, spokesman of the Army’s 10th division.

Obligado said local officials are working closely with MNLF leaders in the area to make sure that the situation remains normal.



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