Philippine troops clear rebels as 50 dieAgence France-Presse . Zamboanga, Philippines
The Philippine troops seeking to end a six-day standoff that has killed more than 50 people in the south were clearing the remaining Muslim rebels on Saturday as a ceasefire plan collapsed.
The police estimated the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gunmen were now holding as few as seven civilian hostages in the southern port city of Zamboanga, compared to more than 100 a day earlier, interior secretary Mar Roxas said.
His comments boosted hopes that the crisis, which had left entire neighbourhoods razed to the ground by the gunmen and forced tens of thousands of residents to flee, would soon be resolved.
‘By today, it’s quite clear that not only is this incursion being contained,’ Roxas told reporters. ‘From contained it has evolved into constriction, which is to reduce the operating space of the MNLF. Now it is into clearing.’
Relentless day and night operations by at least 3,000 elite government troops have killed 43 rebels while 19 others had been detained, military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said.
‘Right now we are optimistic that our operations are effective and that we are delivering a significant blow to our enemies,’ he said.
‘We hope that we can finish this calibrated response at the soonest possible time,’ he said, while refusing to give a timetable.
He cautioned that the remaining gunmen were still dangerous, with the military limited to using light weaponry to avoid civilian casualties.
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