MANILA - Philippine forces said on Friday they had rescued the last civilians held by Muslim rebels on a southern island after nearly three weeks of fighting that has raised doubts about government efforts to end decades-old insurgencies.
Hundreds of members of a Muslim rebel faction, angered by a pact struck with the main Muslim rebel group, marched into Zamboanga City on Sept 9. They took hundreds of hostages and began battling security forces. The violence has sat uncomfortably with the new-found reputation of the Christian-majority country as an emerging market success and one of Asia's fastest-growing economies.
About 200 people, including 166 rebels, have been killed and more than 100,000 residents of the port city on the main southern island of Mindanao were displaced. Fifteen members of the breakaway faction of the separatist Moro National liberation Front (MNLF) were killed in a Thursday night clash, an army spokesman said.
"We have secured the last six hostages," the spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala, told a new conference in Zamboanga. "We were told these were the last group of people held by the rebels. We now have accounted for 195 hostages."
About 300 of the gunmen had surrendered or been captured, Lt-Col Zagala said.
But the city is not fully secure. There was sporadic gunfire on Friday, and two powerful explosions were heard in areas where US-trained commandos were doing house-to-house searches, Lt-Col Zagala said.