Correspondent (Asia — Far East)
MANILA — The Philippine military finally rescued dozens of hostages as it successfully pushed back Muslim rebels. The attacks by the rebels were considered as the biggest security threat to President Benigno Aquino’s government ever since he took office, three years ago.
The military recaptured 70% of the territory seized by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters since they began an offensive in the southern city of Zamboanga on September 9, military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said in a statement last week. Government forces killed 15 of the rebels and rescued six hostages in a fight that began last Thursday and lasted till early Friday.
The freed hostages told troops that they believed no one else was held by the separatist group, which took 180 people hostage in the coastal city of Zamboanga more than three weeks ago. Efforts to negotiate the hostages’ release failed, resulting in intense bursts of fighting that left 158 people dead as of last Thursday, including 125 members of the MNLF — the government-run Philippines News Agency reported. President Aquino is under intense pressure to end the standoff, which has complicated efforts to strike a peace deal with a separate group of rebels after a four-decade insurgency on Mindanao. The violence came as Aquino boosted strategic ties with the United States and Japan.
The MNLF signed a peace deal with the central government in Manila in 1996, but some of its members have broken away to continue a violent campaign.
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