No ceasefire with Philippine rebels
Updated: 2013-09-16 09:35
(www.asianewsnet.net/Philippine Daily Inquirer)
Fighting between government troops and Moro rebels holding hostages in south Philippines intensifies despite reports of a ceasefire
Fighting between Philippine government troops and Moro rebels holding hostages in coastal villages in Zamboanga City intensified on Saturday despite reports of a ceasefire taking effect at midnight on Friday.
By late Saturday, government troops had started to advance on rebel positions in a “calibrated” offensive to free the hostages and retake the villages from the rebels.
Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin told the Inquirer by phone that a ceasefire had not been declared, contrary to statements by Vice President Jejomar Binay late on Friday.
Binay said he had spoken by telephone to Nur Misuari, leader of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction involved in the crisis here, and to Gazmin and they agreed to a ceasefire and talks to resolve the conflict.
The vice president said the ceasefire was to take effect at midnight.
But Gazmin said there was no ceasefire.
“What I said was there would be a ceasefire only if they (MNLF rebels) would stop firing. Then we will follow suit. They were the ones who started this,” Gazmin said.
Gazmin said the order from President Benigno Aquino III was to ensure that the hostages would be “protected” as government forces moved in to rescue them.
Binay travelled to Zamboanga City on Friday and met with President Aquino at the military’s Western Mindanao Command headquarters.
He returned to Manila in the evening with fighting still going on in Zamboanga.
Binay said his efforts to broker a peaceful end to the conflict failed because both the government and the MNLF rejected conditions each set to halt the fighting.
“It’s a pity,” Binay said when reached by phone after he landed in Manila.
“There was a good start. Both were for peaceful settlement. But the President did not accept the conditions [set by Misuari],” Binay said.
He declined to disclose the conditions, but sources said one of Misuari’s conditions was safe passage for his followers who were boxed in four coastal villages here.
Gazmin said he was not privy to the discussions between the president and Binay and Misuari.