Troops to remain in Zamboanga City
MANILA, Philippines – Although the siege in Zamboanga City has been declared over, the military will still maintain its forces in the strife-torn city.
The military said Monday that mopping-up operations, the supposed second phase of the three-week conflict between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas, have been launched.
“During this two-week period [of clearing operations], we will help. We will pull out a unit so they could take a rest but another reserve [unit] will be coming,” Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told reporters in a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.
He said the Philippine National Police has taken the lead in the clearing operations.
Thousands of troops had been deployed to battle in Zamboanga but the military did not give the exact number for operational reasons. Over 200 had been killed and at least 100,000 persons were displaced because of the fighting.
“The fighting has been fierce, long and hard for our soldiers so it’s important that they recover. And one way to recover is to pull them out and deploy fresh troops,” he added.
Zagala said the government troops were still engaging with the remnants of the MNLF.
“We know that a lot of them are still hiding and trying to evade capture and want to escape. We know that they have a few ammunitions left for last defense. We will not stop. Both the AFP and PNP will continue to find them,” he said.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin declared over the weekend that the Zamboanga siege has ended after all the hostages taken by the MNLF were all accounted for.
Clearing operations will be part of the post-conflict stage, Zagala said, and “to render the area safe,” they will have “to remove all unexploded ordnances like grenades, rifle grenades, ammunition, mortars and the like.”
They were given two weeks to do the task.
“After this period of two weeks we are to turn over the area to local government unit for the eventual return of the residents and we can go to phase three, which is rehabilitation,” he said.
As for Habier Malik, MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari’s top lieutenant who led the attacks in the city, Gazmin said they have yet to verify if he was among those killed in the fighting.
“If he escaped I’m sure he will not repeat [the attack]. It will take a while before he could launch a new attack. They saw the force of our government troops, that we can defend our fellowmen,” he told reporters.
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