Normal Life Returning to Philippines City Attacked by Rebels

Wednesday, 18 Sep 2013 09:35 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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Officials say life in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, which was attacked by Muslim rebels last week, is gradually returning to normal, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Although skirmishes continue as security forces try to clear two areas still occupied by roughly 70 Islamist rebels, Philippines Interior Minister Manuel Roxas said normalcy is starting to return the city, a major trading center. Meanwhile, more banks, pharmacies, and other businesses are open, though schools remain closed.

Zamboanga City International Airport — which had been shut down since a heavily armed faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered the city Sept. 9 with a plan to declare independence from the Philippines — has reopened for flights.

Footage aired by various television stations of Zamboanga City still show bullet-riddled homes, a raging fire, and a sports complex that is now home to most of the 70,000 people who fled their homes to escape the fighting.

The frequency of skirmishes between rebels and the army has decreased — which indicates the rebels are running low on ammunition, Phlippine Army Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told ANC television.

"Hopefully, we can finish this at the soonest possible time," Zagala said. He urged the rebels to lay down their weapons.

"There is no dishonor in surrendering when it means saving lives," he added.

On Tuesday night, 23 rebels surrendered to Zamboanga City’s policy chief, Col. Jose Chiquito Malayo, whom they had abducted earlier that day. Captured rebels were found in short or pants and shirts, looking like ordinary civilians, underscoring the difficulty security forces face in identifying the rebels.

Through late Tuesday, authorities said 88 people have died and 166 wounded in the recent fighting. Of those killed, seven were soldiers, three policemen, seven civilians, and 71 were MNLF fighters.

The MNLF is a separatist movement established in 1971 with the aim of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in the predominantly Catholic Philippines.

While the MNLF signed a peace agreement with the Manila government in 1996, some of its members have broken off to continue fighting.

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