ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews/16 September) – Government forces have regained control of at least 70 percent of the areas occupied by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) when they infiltrated this city last week, a military official said.
In a press briefing late Monday afternoon, Armed Forces Public Affairs Officer Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said they have constricted the area being held by the rebels as joint police and military offensive continued in the adjoining barangays of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) is pushing forward. We are gaining ground,” Zagala said without elaborating further citing operational matters.
He assured that the troops are ensuring the safety of the hostages in launching attacks on rebel positions.
“These are calibrated responses. We are very careful,” the military official said.
Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas also emphasized during the briefing that the safety of the hostages is their primary concern.
Roxas repeatedly referred to the MNLF rebels as “mananakup” (invaders).
Shortly after noon time Monday MG-520 helicopters pounded with rockets the rebels’ positions while ground troops continued to advance.
Philippine National Police Deputy Director-General Felipe Rojas, Jr. said that so far 51 rebels were killed and 26 others, including women, were captured.
Rojas said 15 high-powered and seven low-powered firearms were seized by the advancing troops.
In the same briefing, Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman said the number of evacuees has reached at least 16,000 families or over 80,000 individuals.
She said there are now 24 evacuation centers in the city. (MindaNews)