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Nation

MNLF denies 'attack,' cries harassment

Louis Bacani - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) denied that its members attacked villages in Zamboanga City, claiming that their forces were harassed by the Philippine Navy on Monday morning.

Lawywer Emmanuel Fontanilla, MNLF spokesperson, said in an interview on ANC that their members arrived in Zamboanga City for a peace rally when they were allegedly harassed by the naval personnel.

"The other party has approached and harassed some groups of the MNLF and unfortunately, there was an encounter," said Fontanilla.

Reports said Philippine Navy forces clashed with about 100 suspected MNLF members, who were on board a large motorboat and eight smaller vessels off the village of Rio Hondo, Zamboanga City.

The clash has spread to the villages of Lustre and Sta. Barbara, where at least 30 people have been reportedly taken hostage by the MNLF group led by Haber Malik, a Moro rebel commander identified with former ARMM governor Nur Misuari.

In its Facebook account, the MNLF denied that an attack was initiated and that civilians were taken as hostages.

"Media published it as an 'ATTACK'. The truth is, there was no 'ATTACK' because there are no shootings yet," the MNLF said in its Facebook page maintained by John Petalcorin, the group's director for advocacy communication.

"If you mean like a hold-up hostage situation that you see in movies, there is none. Everyone in Zamboanga City now is a hostage inside their houses or cars as a result of their own fear, especially those inside the convergence zone," the MNLF added.

Petalcorin said they have "no idea" about the reported attack on Monday.

The Zamboanga City Government said in its official Twitter account that certain residents still remain trapped at Baranagay Sta. Catalina where some MNLF members are reportedly stationed.

It added that 11 MNLF members were confirmed arrested by the Zamboanga City Police Office.

Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco has also convened a crisis management meeting.

Climaco has suspended office work and classes in all levels in both public and private schools in the city due to the reported clash.

Meanwhile, Malacañang said it condemns the incident "in the strongest possible terms."

"It is incumbent on all people of goodwill to reject the violence that has erupted," Presidential Edwin Lacierda said in a statement. "The ongoing attack of armed individuals in Zamboanga City, including initial reports of the possible use of civilians as human shields, is a cause for great concern."

Lacierda said authorities are responding to the situation in a manner that will reduce the risk to innocent civilians and restore peace and order to Zamboanga City at the soonest possible time.

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