MNLF last stand: ‘Enemies will to fight waning’
MANILA, Philippines—Military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said Habier Malik remained with his men, making a last stand even after nearly 200 of his fighters had been captured or had surrendered, and 138 had been killed.
“To be able to capture him is a big factor. The enemies’ will to fight is waning and they [are low on] ammunition,” Zagala said.
Two of the Marine soldiers who were killed belonged to the Marine Battalion Landing Team 3. They encountered MNLF rebels coming from the fishpond of Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology in the village of Rio Hondo at around 4:25 a.m. Thursday.
A firefight broke out, which lasted for 20 minutes.
Three MNLF rebels were killed in the fighting.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 23 security forces with 180 wounded.
Twelve civilians have died in the fighting in the past two weeks.
In an earlier interview, Zagala said the military was trying to determine whether the rebels were still holding hostages, as the rescue of the six residents indicated that all those reported taken have been recovered.
Zagala explained that the security forces want to ensure that there won’t be any civilians caught in the crossfire as they press on to get Malik and the remnants of his group.
The 18-day conflict was a rescue mission for the estimated 200 hostages taken by Nur Misuari’s followers since they attempted to take over Zamboanga City Hall, hoist their flag and declare an “independent Bangsamoro Republik.”
President Aquino, who stayed in Zamboanga for more than a week to oversee the operations, ordered a surgical and deliberate military action to prevent the loss of civilian lives.
Zagala said the military was reassessing the information it earlier received on the strength of the MNLF band.
He said the military initially estimated that there were 300 to 400 fighters in the coastal areas of the city but the figure was later reduced to 180, the number of rebels who landed in the coastal villages on the morning of Sept. 9.
“Let me emphasize that [the figure] we earlier came out with [on the MNLF strength] was an estimate. There was not a lot of information yet,” he said.
The released hostages and the captured rebels have given the security forces more information that could be considered as the security forces press on to find Malik, Zagala said.