ZAMBOANGA - A group of 100 heavily-armed Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks launched a major attack that shut down a busting southern Philippine city Monday, authorities said.
Followers of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader Nur Misuari entered the coastal area of Zamboaga city by boat at dawn, triggering clashes that had left one soldier dead and six wounded, the military said.
Fighting later spread to the city proper, with the rebels taking 20 civilian hostages to thwart government forces.
"As of now there are an estimated 20 people that have been held hostage," city mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said.
"The main target by the MNLF in encroaching Zamboaga city is to raise their banner of independence at city hall," she said.
Loud shots could be heard around the city, a former colonial Spanish port with a population of nearly a million and one of the busiest commercial hubs on southern Mindanao island.
Streets were deserted and shops were shuttered. Heavily armed private security personnel as well as troops were guarding the airport, hotels, banks and other institutions, according to an AFP reporter on the ground.
The MNLF is a former Muslim rebel founded by Misuari in the early 1970s to push for an independent Islamic state in the region.
The long-running insurgency has left more than 150,000 dead, and led to a proliferation of other armed groups that has left parts of Mindanao in a constant state of lawlessness.