In Zamboanga city located in the Philippines, residents are being used as human shields in an urban conflict between government soldiers and rebel forces. Such tactics were also used in a 2001 rebel uprising in an attempt to gain an advantage against the government military. Innocent residents caught in the gun battle were killed as the rebels sought refuge against attacks by military soldiers.
Nur Misuari, founder of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), organized the rebel faction to fight for an Islamic nation in the Philippines. The rebels were founded as a fighting force in 1971 and have functioned as a thorn in the side of Philippine authorities until 1996. The government signed a peace treaty with the group that ended the upheavals.
The MNLF has since become unhappy with the present government’s peace negotiations with other rebel factions such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Misuari, MNLF founding member, believes his movement is being marginalized by the government. His faction has carried out violence in the southern Philippines region, declaring it an independent Islamic state.
In the rumpus Zamboanga city, residents were being used as human shields against government military attacks. “It appears that what happened is not hostage-taking but more of them being turned into human shields by the MNLF forces who entered their communities,” said Secretary Mar Roxas in a press conference. Residents were said to be trapped in the community by the fighting but it is speculated by authorities that they are being held hostage.
The government is prepared to negotiate with Misuari but the rebel leader has been unresponsive to attempts at mediation talks. The government has moved soldiers into the area and says the situation is temporarily stabilized. It is believed that about 180 residents are being held as human shields by the rebels in the case of incursion attempts by the military.
Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar of Zamboanga has been relying on police sources for regular updates of the rebels’ activities in the urban areas. The mayor has confirmed that six people were dead as a result of the fighting. The government has a Twitter account that posts updates on the fighting that is occurring in the city streets.
Police have been negotiating with specific factions of the rebels and were successful in getting the release of at least five citizens. “They forced us to go with them last night, saying they did not know the way,” said one woman that was released to reporters. Another evacuee told AP that he and others “could hear the shooting outside so we decided to go to the kitchen but when we got there the ceiling collapsed.” Residents forced from their homes by the fighting took refuge in local arenas or sports stadiums.
The government has sincerely offered to broker peace with the MNLF forces to stop the death of civilians. Zamboanga city residents used as human shields by MNLF rebels will be given safe passage if they would only leave the city. However, officials have not established clear communications with MNLF leaders to ascertain what it is that they want.
By Thomas Barr