New Philippines fighting derails ceasefire

New Philippines fighting derails ceasefire

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - Fighting intensified on Saturday in the southern Philippines between government troops and rogue Muslim separatists, shattering a ceasefire almost immediately as it was to go into effect and leaving many residents running low on supplies.

The army said 53 people, including 43 guerrillas, had been killed in the fighting, now in its sixth day in the port city of Zamboanga. Both President Benigno Aquino and his vice-president flew into the city to monitor operations.

Dozens have been wounded and more than 62,000 people displaced, with hundreds of homes razed and a hospital still in flames. Rebels have fired on government positions and seized civilians to use as human shields.

The violence on Mindanao, the Philippines' most southern island and theatre of four decades of violence, underscores the security challenge potential investors face in the mainly Roman Catholic country despite strong second quarter figures.

It also called into question a peace deal agreed last October with a larger Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Late on Friday, Vice-President Jejomar Binay told Reuters he had spoken by telephone to Nur Misuari, leader of a rogue faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and they agreed to a ceasefire and talks to resolve the latest conflict.

Binay flew to Zamboanga and met Aquino, who had arrived a day earlier, though it was unclear what the two men discussed. Aquino, who oversaw last year's peace deal with the MILF rebels, has said nothing publicly about his vice-president's plan for talks to end the standoff.

Army spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said the military was unaware of any ceasefire agreement with the rogue MNLF forces. "We have not received any order. We continue our operations until we are told otherwise," he said.

Heavy fighting broke out after midnight in a coastal village as soldiers retook rebel positions, killing four guerrillas.

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