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MNLF rebel stronghold in Zambo falls, but Malik vanishes

September 18, 2013 7:44am

Troops retake Maliks command post in Zambo siege
Troops retake Malik's command post in Zambo siege. Tanks secure the battle-scarred Lustre St. in Bgy. Sta. Catalina, Zamboanga City on Tuesday, September 17, after government forces retook it from MNLF gunmen after one week of fierce fighting. The three-storey KGK Building at center was believed to be MNLF commander Habier Malik's command post during the siege. Cherali Ajesta, GMA News
(Updated 11:35 a.m.) - Government troops have captured a battle-scarred MNLF stronghold in Zamboanga City, believed to be the base from where MNLF commander Habier Malik was holed up.

The military took control of KGK Building along R. Lustre Street, but the shot-up building was empty, with not even bodies of slain or wounded MNLF fighters found. Government forces have retaken as much as 80 percent of MNLF-controlled areas in the city, a PNP spokesman said, as the standoff there entered its 10th day Wednesday.
 
Philippine National Police deputy director for operations Felipe Rojas Jr. said they are monitoring one area for MNLF presence but did not elaborate.
 
"Kung percentage-wise, siguro mga 20 percent na lang (hawak nila). Ang iba naaresto. Ang iba napatay," he said in an interview on dzBB radio, when asked how much of the city had MNLF presence.
 
The standoff started last Sept. 9 when the MNLF took civilian hostages and holed up in several parts of the city.
 
But in the past few days, several hostages had been either freed or managed to escape, while the government implemented a calibrated response to the MNLF.
 
Rojas said they are just focusing on one area where shots were heard, though not as frequently in past days.
 
"Ang observation natin pailan-ilan ang putok galing doon so there must be few of them," he said.
 
When asked if the PNP has started clearing operations, he said yes. "Tinitingnan kung may naiwan IED [improvised explosive devices]," he said.
 
But he said this does not mean fewer government troops at this time. "Hindi pa ho hanggang hindi natin na-clear ang lugar," he said.

Where is Malik?

On Tuesday, government troops captured a heavily fought over MNLF stronghold in Zamboanga City, believed to be the base from which MNLF leader Ustadz Habier Malik was holed up. 
 
The military took control of KGK Building along R. Lustre Street, but the shot-up building was empty, with not even bodies of slain or wounded MNLF fighters found.

Military information chief Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told GMA News TV's News to Go on Wednesday that they believe Malik is still in the city and is "moving from house to house."

“We believe that Commander Malik is still here [Zamboanga City] and that now they are currently moving from house to house,” Zagala said.
 
But Zagala refused to disclose the exact location of Malik, even as he assured the public that the military is fully committed to finding the elusive MNLF leader.
 
A Reuters report on Tuesday quoted Zagala as saying MNLF gunmen were fleeing from Zamboanga City and heading to outlying islands
 
"Our forces continue to press on and push them out of the city ... We will finish this problem at the soonest possible time," Zagala said, while sounding a note of caution: "The fighting is not over yet."
 
 
The Navy deployed 28 ships and two Islander aircraft for the cordon, but declined to give operational details.
 
Also, teams from Marine Landing Battalion-3 are watching possible escape routes the MNLF may take.
 
MNLF reinforcements reportedly arrived in the eastern section of Zamboanga City on Tuesday and seized the chief of the Zamboanga City police, Jose Chiquito Malayo. 
 
 
Malayo, however, adamantly denied he had been abducted. Rather, he had walked into the MNLF lines in order to ask them to release the hostages and for them to stop fighting.

Fire breaks out

Meanwhile, fire broke out in Zamboanga City Wednesday morning amid fresh fighting between government forces and members of the MNLF.
 
The latest fire incident, the 11th since Sept. 10, was in Barangay Rio Hondo, site of the military clearing operation against MNLF forces.
 
More banks, stores opening
 
Meanwhile, a separate report by radio dzBB's Benjie Liwanag Jr. said more stores and business establishments opened as of Wednesday morning. —KG/HS, GMA News
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