Zamboanga, Philippines -- Violence erupted anew between Islamic rebels and government troops in the early on Tuesday (September 10), as the standoff that has killed at least six people dead and displaced thousands entered a second day.
Muslim rebels launched an assault in the southern Philippines on Monday (September 9), taking control of several villages and shutting down a major port in the biggest challenge to a peace deal signed by the government last year.
Local media said the gunfight took place near a school and a mosque at the village of Sta. Barbara where rebel forces were believed to be stationed.
The intense gunfight sent hundreds of residents fleeing.
"A mortar was dropped on us. I'm a retired policeman and I just want to bring my children to the evacuation centre at the grandstand," said evacuee Baysol Abdul Madjid.
Evacuee Nena Jarawi hoped the violence would not reach the city proper where hundreds of evacuees like her were staying.
"I do not care if I have to stay here as long as we are alive and able to see tomorrow through God's grace," she said.
The Zamboanga City Council reported at least six people dead and 24 wounded since the violence erupted on Monday. More than 3,000 people have fled their homes and sought shelter at temporary evacuation centres.
Zamboanga City Mayor Isabelle Climaco said during a radio interview that the rebels were holding 170 people in one of the villages they have occupied and negotiations were underway for their release.
Security officials said the rebels belonged to a rogue faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) separatist group, which entered into a peace agreement with the government in 1996 and runs a Muslim autonomous region on southern Mindanao island.
Five years later the faction led by former university professor Nur Misuari broke away, claiming the government had not fully implemented the deal. An army spokesman said that a known senior aide of Misuari, Ustadz Habier Malik, took part in Monday's attack.
Misuari opposed the deal signed last year by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in which the group agreed to a new autonomous region that would give the Muslim region greater political powers and more control over resources.
Four decades of conflict in the south have killed 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted growth in the poor but resource-rich area of the mainly Catholic state. Last year's deal spurred hopes of an economic revival.
Emmanuel Fontanilla, a spokesman for the MNLF, called for a third party such as Muslim-majority Indonesia, to intervene and help end the standoff. Indonesia brokered a peace agreement between the Philippines and MNLF in 1996.