Philippine forces had killed or captured nearly 100 of the Muslim guerillas who held scores of hostages for a week in a southern city, as the government pushed ahead with an offensive to retake rebel-held coastal communities, officials said on Sunday.
Army troops and police special forces regained rebel-held grounds and were pressing an assault deeper into communities in the coastal outskirts of Zamboanga city, where more than 100 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) guerillas were holding hostages, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said.
Several hostages escaped or were freed, but it was unclear how many were still in rebel custody.
Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said the rebels were still holding up to 40 hostages in one community alone.
Mr. Zagala said troops taking part in the offensive were calibrating their firepower to avoid harming civilians. At least 51 rebels were killed and 42 others captured, most while trying to escape along the coast after discarding their camouflage uniforms for ordinary clothes, Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said.
The bodies of two rebels, a man and a woman, were found on Sunday by advancing troops. Six policemen and soldiers, along with four villagers, have been killed in the standoff, which began on Monday when troops foiled an attempt by the rebels to march and hoist their flag at Zamboanga’s city hall.
The rebels, who arrived by boat from outlying islands, barged into five coastal villages and took more than 100 hostages as human shields.