MANILA, Philippines – Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II on Friday said the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has been surrounded by government forces in a “very, very small portion of Zamboanga City.”
“These terrorists, these rogue (MNLF) who are attempting to enter and attack Zamboanga City…They have been surrounded,” Roxas said in an interview with Radyo Inquirer 990AM.)
The standoff between the MNLF and government forces in Zamboanga City that started Monday morning left several people dead while dozens have been held hostage by the group.
But Roxas said the problem was limited to only five out of about 95 villages in the city and that they would not allow the conflict to spread in other parts.
The Interior Secretary said they hoped to solve the conflict through peaceful means, saying the only reason why a gunfight erupted again Thursday was because MNLF snipers allegedly targeted firefighters.
In the same interview, Roxas confirmed that the MNLF released Father Michael Ufana early Friday through negotiations.
But Roxas said he has yet to confirm if it was true that the priest was freed on condition that he would “relay messages” between the government and the MNLF.
Although many had volunteered to negotiate with the MNLF, Roxas said they decided to use official channels and trained hostage rescue negotiators.
Asked if they would heed MNLF spokesperson Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla’s request to have third-party negotiators such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Roxas said they were open to the idea but would first focus on their established communication with Habier Malik, the MNLF commander in Zamboanga City.