Over 62,000 displaced by fighting in Zambonga, rights group says

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Villagers wait for their ride to take them to an evacuation center after authorities ordered a forced evacuation of their village as a standoff between the government troopers and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, continues for the fifth straight day Friday Sept. 13, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The troops have surrounded the Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas with their hostages in four coastal villages since the crisis erupted Monday. AP

ZAMBOAGA CITY, Philippines—A total of 62,329 people have been forced out of their homes by continuing fighting between government forces and guerrillas of the Moro National Liberation Front in a number of seaside districts here, a human rights group said Saturday.

Citing information from the Department of Social Welfare and Development Action Center, the  Mindanao Human Rights Action Center or Minhrac said the displaced persons were sheltered at 20 evacuations sites.

Fighting was continuing at dawn Saturday.

Minhrac said exchanges of gunfire and explosions, believed caused by M203 rifle grenades, were heard in Barangay Santa Catalina at dawn Saturday. A 30-minute firefight was reported in the same district at 7 a.m.

The MNLF forces, most of them armed, arrived here from Basilan and Sulu on Monday, saying they were scheduled to march to Plaza Pershing, which is in front of City Hall, and hold a rally there. Their presence caused panic among residents and led to skirmishes with government troops.

The MNLF guerrillas belong to a faction led by Nur Misuari who signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996. Misuari, however, claimed that the government has failed to fully implement the agreement, and is now talking peace with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a group that broke away from the MNLF after the 1996 peace agreement.

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