Religious leaders in Bacolod City yesterday called for prayers for a peaceful resolution to the standoff in Zamboanga City.
Government troops were locked in a standoff with hundreds of Muslim gunmen who killed six people and took at least 20 hostages in Zamboanga City yesterday in a bid to derail peace talks.
A night-time curfew was imposed in the southern port city of Zamboanga as armored security forces surrounded between 200 and 300 Moro National Liberation Front gunmen holed up in six coastal villages on the outskirts of the city.
The gunmen launched their attack before dawn as the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which split from the MNLF in 1978, prepared to resume peace talks aimed at ending a 42-year-old rebellion that has claimed 150,000 lives.
Bacolod Bishop Vicente Navarra yesterday called on Negrenses to pray for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Zamboanga City.
Imam Omar Betita, head of the Al Dhikr Islamic Call and Guidance Center in Bacolod, also said they are praying for a peaceful resolution to the Zamboanga standoff.
He aired the suspicion that someone could be behind the move to create a situation that would cover the wide publicity on the pork barrel scandal.
Abdul Rashid, a director at the Center for Islamic Study and Dawah Negros Inc., said the MNLF guerrillas in the Zamboanga standoff are opposed to the US intervention in the Mindanao conflict.
Government should listen to their concerns, he said.
The men in the standoff are identified as belonging to a faction led by MNLF founder Nur Misuari.
Zamboanga City authorities declared a curfew between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m, as President Benigno Aquino dispatched Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, to Zamboanga to help resolve the crisis.
"There will be no movement (by the security forces). As much as possible we will solve the case in the most peaceful manner," Roxas told reporters, adding that third parties, whose names he would not disclose, were trying to initiate negotiations.
"The authorities are in the process of identifying and pursuing all those responsible for this attack and bringing them to justice," he said.
Zamboanga City officials said two security forces and four civilians were killed, and 24 people wounded, while 1,500 others had fled their homes.
Col Jon. Aying, 303rd Infantry Brigade commander in Negros, said it is difficult when civilians are used as human shields and hostages.
The government troops will have to avoid collateral damage, and unnecessary loss of life, he said.
Aying said with the heightening of tension there, it is unlikely that three brigades originally from Negros that ere sent to Mindanao would be returned to the province soon.
The three battalions from Negros now in Mindanao are the 66th, 6th, and 15th IB, Aying said.
Additional forces on Negros Island would have helped stabilized the situation the province to boost development, he added.*CPG/AFP