Fighting Intensifies in Southern Philippines as Over 100 Civilians Held Hostage

Source: Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Syria isn't the only place rebels are being violent. Only a day after a cease-fire was arranged, scores of civilians are being held hostage in the southern Philippines, as clashes intensified between Muslim rebels and government troops Saturday.

Military troops have increased efforts to regain control of several villages near Zamboanga city, which were taken over on Monday by about 200 fighters from a rebel group, the Moro National Liberation Front. The group is holding at least 100 men and women hostage. According to the army, at least 53 people have been killed in the fighting between the rebels and the troops since the stand-off started.

Philippines President Benigno Aquino and Vice President Jejomar Binay are heading into the city in an effort to monitor the situation.

"There are limits, if there is an increased threat to the safety to innocent civilians," Aquino said. "There are lines that they cannot cross. If they cross those lines, we will be obligated to use the state's force against them."

According to Binay, rebel leader Nur Misuari agreed to a cease-fire late Friday, but Defense Secretary Gazmin — who's been in the area dealing with the crisis — has said the rebels violated the agreement and didn't stop their shooting.

"Everybody wants peace, to stop this without more bloodshed," Gazmin said. "But as we speak, there's firing so there's no cease-fire. We agreed that government forces will not fire only if the MNLF will not open fire."

Gazmin also said that security forces are continuing efforts to free the hostages.

After 25 years of a guerrilla war for an independent Muslim state, the MNLF, founded by Nur Misuari, signed a peace treaty with the government in 1996. Recently, though, Misuari has said that his faction is becoming marginalized by a new insurgent group — the Moro Islamic Liberation Front — which is in talks with the government for a new minority Muslim region agreement.

Must Reads