The abducted police chief of a southern Philippine city besieged by Muslim rebels on Tuesday walked free after hours in captivity, taking with him 23 of his armed captors who surrendered, officials said.
Ninety people have been killed and more than 82,000 displaced in the nine-day siege of Zamboanga City, 875 km south of Manila, by members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).
Senior Superintendent Chiquito Malayo, the city police chief, was seized with four other officers while negotiating for the release of other hostages held by the MNLF.
Less than six hours later, he emerged from captivity with 23 armed MNLF rebels who surrendered to him, said Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala, a military spokesman.
“He was able to convince 23 rebels to surrender with their firearms,” he said.
MNLF forces seized the policemen as troops rescued 123 hostages held since the hostilities began on September 9, Zagala said.
“We were able to rescue 123 hostages in the past 18 hours,” he said. “We believe that they still have hostages with them and that’s why we have to be very deliberate in the way we advance.” Three soldiers were killed in the rescue operations, bringing to eight the number of soldiers killed in nine days of fighting, Zagala said. The number of MNLF rebels killed rose to 72, he added.
Three police officers and seven civilians were also killed in the hostilities, which have forced over 82,000 people to flee their homes, including nearly 68,000 now seeking shelter in evacuation centres.
The siege began when armed MNLF rebels gathered for a protest march in the centre of the bustling port city to denounce what they saw as the government’s failure to implement a 1996 peace agreement.
The Philippine government has sought the assistance of Indonesia and other member-countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in resolving the crisis, said Presidential adviser Teresita Deles.
Indonesia agreed to “open their lines to receive and transmit messages from one side to the other, but that they did not see it to be within their role to proactively make a call to either side,” she said.
None of the other OIC countries have so far offered proposals to help, she added.
The OIC brokered the peace deal signed with the MNLF in 1996.
The Philippine Government is currently finalising details of a preliminary peace deal to create a new autonomous Muslim region by 2016. The deal was signed in October with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which broke off from the MNLF in 1978.