Philippines rebels trade fire, take more hostages

Philippines rebels trade fire, take more hostages
A government soldier directs civilian evacuees near an area where Muslim rebels members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) is occupying villages in Zamboanga City.

ZAMBOANGA - Muslim rebels seized dozens more hostages and traded gunfire with Philippines troops Tuesday, in the second day of a stand-off after mounting a deadly attack on a southern city, officials said.

Gunshots rang out at dawn on the coastal outskirts of Zamboanga, in a confrontation between the government and up to 300 gunmen from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) aimed at derailing peace talks.

The rebels seized 20 hostages at the start of the crisis, but Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco Salazar said they were now holding 170 people in six villages where they are holed up.

"What we are seeing is that they are being used as human shields," Salazar said in an interview with ABS-CBN television. "We are working for the release of the hostages and a peaceful resolution of this problem."

The gunmen, followers of by MNLF founder Nur Misuari, poured into six coastal villages on Monday before mounting an assault on Zamboanga, causing panic in the city of nearly one million people.

Misuari has declared "independence" for the Muslim southern regions of the mainly Catholic Philippines and called on his followers to besiege government installations.

The initial attack killed six people, wounded 24 others and forced about 1,500 residents to flee their homes, according to the mayor.

Negotiators were now trying to convince the gunmen to release the villagers, said Muktar Muarip, a local Muslim community leader in talks with the rebels.

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