Fighting spreads as rebels besiege Philippine city

Government soldiers battling Moro National Liberation Front rebels take up positions in downtown Zamboanga city, in southern Philippines, Sept. 11, 2013.
Philippine troops battled Muslim rebels on two fronts Thursday, after the insurgents attacked a second town near the southern port where they are holding scores of residents hostage.
The military is trying to dislodge about 200 fighters who have taken scores of civilians hostage in several neighborhoods of Zamboanga City.
Officials say at least 13,000 residents have fled the fighting, leaving large parts of the city abandoned and resembling a war zone.
At least twelve people have died in the standoff, which the rebels have said should be resolved by international mediators.
Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isaballe Climaco said Thursday in a Facebook statement that talks are ongoing with rebel leaders. 
The fighters are part of the Moro National Liberation Front, which has long pushed for greater autonomy in the mainly Muslim south.
The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 that led to the creation of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
But some of its members continued to fight, claiming Manila did not hold up its end of the deal to develop the impoverished, rural region.
MNLF founder Nur Misuari has also criticized the government\’s peace talks with a breakaway faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. 
Fearing the negotiations may marginalize his own group\’s power, Misuari last month declared parts of the region to be independent of Manila.
But it is unclear to what extent Misuari is involved in the current standoff, as he has not appeared in public or issued any official statement.
In her Facebook statement, Mayor Climaco says she spoke with Misuari, and that he has "disowned" the actions of the hostage takers.
Under Misuari\’s leadership, the MNLF in 2001 carried out a similar attack in Zamboanga. The fighters were later allowed to leave after releasing their hostages.
The insurgency in the southern Philippines has now lasted for four decades, killing more than 150,000 people.
Source: Agencies
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