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Philippine Troops Clash with Muslim Rebels

Hannah Schaeffer

Scores of hostages were rescued by Philippine government forces in the city of Zamboanga as Muslim rebels fled toward islands off Mindanao. An armed forces spokesman said the Army continuing to pursue the rebels. Fighting commenced last Monday in largely Christian Zamboanga when the separatist rebel group, known as the Moro National Liberation Front, entered the city from boats and declared an independent Islamic State. Armed guerrillas had taken the hostages as the military attempted to contain the rebel’s advance.

The violence has virtually shut down Zamboanga, usually a critical trading hub for the island of Mindanao. The army has said that 70,000 civilians have been displaced from their homes, and at nearly 100 have been killed, including more than 80 rebels and at least five civilians. Approximately 3,000 government troops are taking part in the campaign to regain control of the area. The military launched an aircraft attack Monday, using two MG-520 helicopters from the Fillipino Air Force to fire rockets at rebel positions.

Muslim fighters patrol the camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the southern Philippines last Wednesday. (Photo: CNN)

Recent fighting poses a challenge to the landmark peace deal forged in October 2012 between President Benigno S. Aquino III and Ebrahim Murad, leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The agreement granted the Moro Islamic Liberation Front greater autonomy over political powers and resources, and included a wealth-sharing agreement in the hopes of strengthening the economy in the region. Since the deal was made, however, violence has continued in the area. While there had been only a few large scale episodes prior to last week, residents of Mindanao faced daily kidnappings, executions, and roadside bombs.

The origin of the decades-old grievances traces back to the widespread belief that Christians in the north have oppressed Muslims the southern part of the country. Fighting between armed Muslim clans and government forces has occurred regularly since 1899, when the Philippines was a colony of the United States. All peace deals have been complicated by the presence of a complex network of armed groups, and repeatedly changed allegiances based on clan loyalty. Since gaining independence in 1946, every government has attempted to bring peace to Mindanao.