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Gunfire, RPG attacks mark 2nd day of Zamboanga crisis

(Updated 9:39 a.m.) A predawn exchange of gunfire Tuesday between government troops and Moro National Liberation Front gunmen heralded the second day of the crisis in Zamboanga City.

Shots were heard at Santa Barbara village, where MNLF snipers were reported to have occupied a building, radio dzBB's Jayvee Francisco reported. The shooting occurred at about 5:50 a.m.

The exchange of gunfire escalated by 7:20 a.m., with reports that rocket-propelled grenades and mortars were being fired at government troop positions.

Also early Tuesday, military helicopters flew over MNLF-held positions in Santa Barbara village.

Zamboanga police clarified Tuesday morning that the estimated 300 civilian hostages as of Monday evening were actually "stranded" residents of communities who could not flee because of fear of getting caught in the crossfire.

Intelligence failure

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr.,  in a Tuesday interview over GMA 7's “Unang Hirit,” gave an update on the ground situation in Zamboanga City.

“Ang ating sitwasyon doon ngayon ay tuluy-tuloy natin na kino-contain ang armadong grupo ng Misuari breakaway forces doon sa areas na nag-holdout sila since last night,” said Tutaan.

Also, security checkpoints were still in place to prevent reinforcement of the MNLF gunmen as well as preventing them from withdrawing.

The gunmen still held positions in Barangays Santa Catalina, Santa Barbara, Talon-Talon, and Rio Hondo.

The AFP also said on its Twitter account that as of of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the MNLF released at least six residents, including five children, in Barangay Talon-Talon. The MNLF had taken more than 200 people hostage in Zamboanga City on Monday.

Tutaan also denied there was a “failure of intelligence” in the country's security forces.

“In fact, we were monitoring the possible activities of this MNLF Misuari breakaway group,” the AFP spokeperson explained. “We were trying to assess what their actions were [going to be]. And based on our reports... we have conducted, initially, our efforts to prevent such.”

Tutaan pointed out that the Armed Forces' early Monday morning naval operation was able to prevent the gunmen, sailing in on eight bancas, from landing in Rio Hondo. The naval units thus thwarted the MNLF plan to raise their flag at the Zamboanga City Hall.

Tutaan also countered that the MNLF gunmen could not have been on a peaceful political exercise, as claimed by MNLF Misuari faction spokesperson Emmanuel Fontanilla, given that they were well-armed.

Security concerns

Meanwhile, the Zamboanga City government, in a post on its Twitter account, said there was "no movement on the ground" as of 2:28 a.m. Tuesday.

The MNLF on Monday were believed to be preparing to march to city hall to raise their flag, using civilian hostages as human shields.

Before dawn Tuesday, however, police and Task Force Zamboanga personnel prevented around 30 armed members of the MNLF from joining their comrades in Santa Catalina, Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco said in a statement.

The city government reminded the public not to spread unverified text messages about the situation.

All peace and security concerns may be referred to authorities via hotlines 117 and 166, or to the police operations division at 0906-3680749.

At least four people were killed in clashes between the government and MNLF on Monday. The MNLF gunmen are in a standoff with government forces as they were reported to have taken villagers as hostages.

Travel advisories

A few countries have advised their nationals in the Philippines to take precautions in the Zamboanga City area, in the wake of a standoff between government forces and MNLF men.
Travel advisories were issued by UK and Canada, as well as the US and Australia— DVM/HS/KG, GMA News