UPDATE: More civilians flee Zamboanga standoff; peace panels condemn violence

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/10 September) — The number of civilians displaced in Zamboanga City has increased as the standoff between government troops and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) loyal to Nur Misuari entered its second day without a resolution in sight, according to the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) Zamboanga Satellite Office.

MinHRAC said the evacuees housed at the St. Ignatius de Loyola Church had to be transferred to the Immaculate Conception Archdiocesan School and Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex (Grandstand) as their number increased to about 2000 Tuesday morning.

In an email, Alberto Alvin Valerio, a Zamboanga resident who works for the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. said around 1500 evacuees are now in the Grandstand. About 300 to 400 are in Tetuan Parish Center and in the central elementary school, and around 100 more in an evacuation center in Barangay Talon-Talon.

“Latest reports have said that more evacuees are coming in and have now ballooned to 4,000 to 5,000 individuals. These evacuees may now include the poor people who are affected by the economic disruption due to the armed confrontation,” Valerio said.

“The city government has set up an emergency medical center at the Zamboanga General Hospital near the conflict-affected barangays of Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara and Mariki. The Western Mindanao State University has also offered an emergency medical assistance center inside the university gymnasium located in the western part of the city,” he added.

Soldiers and policemen however have positioned themselves at the Zamboanga City Regional Hospital to prevent MNLF forces from moving closer to City Hall.

Valerio noted that the armed confrontation was in six to seven coastal areas only, “but its proximity to the city proper caused the interruption of basic services that already affect thousands of evacuees.”

He said the standoff has occurred near the City Hall and the central business district.

“Because of this proximity to the seat of the local government and the city’s central business center, the city has been locked down – meaning the whole pueblo, the commercial center, is closed,” he explained.

“As the armed confrontation continues, we need your help and your generous assistance as the number of evacuees is increasing (due to the economic disruption as well), we need a lot of relief goods, food, clothing and, in particular, cash donations,” Valerio pleaded.

MinHRAC said that together with the Department of Social Welfare and Development and other organizations they have distributed food and water to the evacuees.

In another development, the city government said in a series of posts in its Twitter account (@zambocitygovt) that curfew will again be imposed in Zamboanga City tonight until early Wednesday morning. The curfew will run from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

It added classes in all levels in both public and private schools will remain suspended Wednesday.

“The buying public is also advised not to resort to panic buying but purchase provisions enough for the day to prevent shortage of supplies,” one of its Twitter posts said.

Meanwhile, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia the peace panels of the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front issued a joint statement condemning “the violence inflicted in Zamboanga City by elements of the Moro National Liberation Front under Mr. Nur Misuari.”

“The perpetrators must be stopped and held accountable for their acts,” the statement issued today said.

It added that those behind the incident wanted the GPH-MILF peace process to fail through violence and disinformation “to spread fear and chaos in Mindanao.”

But both parties said they are committed to ensure the continuity of the peaceful option “so that the peoples of Mindanao can live in unity and prosperity.”

Both panels are in Kuala Lumpur for the resumption of peace talks which they hope to wrap up this year with the signing of a final peace agreement.

Misuari, founding chair of the MNLF, had openly opposed the peace talks between the Philippine Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front saying it has sidelined the tripartite review of the 1996 GPH-MNLF Final Peace Agreement.

The standoff in Zamboanga came after the MNLF members clashed with government troops on Sunday night.

City Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar yesterday said six people have been killed and 24 wounded since the start of hostilities.

Climaco-Salazar said the MNLF members were planning to enter the city and declare independence at the city hall.

Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan confirmed the mayor’s statement.

“Their purpose was to raise the [MNLF] flag. They were armed that’s why we have to stop them,” Tutaan said in a press briefing Monday afternoon in Camp Aguinaldo.

MNLF spokesperson Emmanuel Fontanilla said it was the military that started the hostilities by harassing their men.

He said the MNLF members came to Zamboanga for a peace rally and dialogue. (MindaNews)