- POSTED: 14 Sep 2013 04:19
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The leader of rebels locked in a deadly stand-off with Philippine forces in a key southern city has agreed to discuss a ceasefire, a spokesman for Vice President Jejomar Binay said on Saturday.
MANILA: The leader of rebels locked in a deadly stand-off with Philippine forces in a key southern city has agreed to discuss a ceasefire, a spokesman for Vice President Jejomar Binay said on Saturday.
About 180 gunmen from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) infiltrated six coastal districts of Zamboanga city before dawn on Monday in a siege which has left at least 22 people dead and 52 wounded.
"He (Binay) talked to (MNLF leader Nur) Misuari and he talked to (Defence Secretary Voltaire) Gazmin, and they agreed to discuss a ceasefire," the vice president's spokesman Joey Salgado told AFP.
The vice president had proposed for the truce to begin from midnight (1600 GMT) Saturday and is flying to Zamboanga later in the day to begin discussions, Salgado said.
Misuari has set no conditions in exchange for agreeing to discuss a ceasefire, he added.
The rebels have been battling with more than 1,000 Philippine troops for the last five days in a bid to derail peace talks aimed at ending an insurgency that had claimed 150,000 lives since the early 1970s.
Officials said the gunmen are holding nearly 200 civilians hostage in a crisis that has forced 24,000 residents to flee the city.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino visited Zamboanga on Friday, urging residents of the city of nearly one million to stand firm against what he described as a "desperate" effort by Misuari to derail peace efforts.
"Our forces and equipment on the ground are overwhelming," Aquino told a news conference, while stressing there were no shortcuts to resolving the crisis without risking heavy casualties.
"We're not setting a deadline but we have decisive points. If they harmed hostages, resorted to arson and crossed other lines that should not be crossed, our security forces have instructions on what to do."
Officials said Friday that rebels had set fire to many homes in a possible attempt to cover up their escape as they run out of food, ammunition and other supplies.
The crisis began when government forces blocked armed followers of MNLF founder Misuari from marching on the Zamboanga city hall before dawn Monday.
Misuari accuses the government of violating the terms of a 1996 peace treaty with the MNLF by negotiating a separate peace deal with a rival faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
The MILF is in the final stages of peace talks with Manila and is expected to take over an expanded autonomous Muslim region in the south by 2016.
Earlier Friday military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told AFP that 19 MNLF rebels have been captured or surrendered in Zamboanga.
The government is on guard against potential efforts by guerrilla groups to launch "sympathetic" or "opportunistic" attacks elsewhere, Aquino said.
MNLF rebels launched attacks on the nearby southern island of Basilan on Thursday and Friday, killing one person and wounding 11 others according to the military.