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Hundreds held by Philippines insurgents

Standoff follows fierce clashes with government troops

About 300 Muslim rebels were locked in a hostage standoff with government troops yesterday after fighting raged through coastal settlements in the southern Philippines, leaving at least eight people dead.

The clashes started when troops backed by tanks blocked Moro National Liberation Front guerillas — armed with assault rifles — from marching into Zamboanga city to raise their flag at the city hall.
Policemen arrested five militants who were wearing combat uniforms and carrying pistols in Rio Hondo village.

Then a navy patrol spotted a large boat and eight smaller vessels carrying dozens of armed guerillas, sparking a sea battle that killed a member of the navy special forces and wounded six others.

The clash spilled into Rio Hondo, where gunfire forced hundreds of residents to flee.

The military said the rebels were boxed into Rio Hondo and were refusing to negotiate.

Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco said that the dead included a special forces soldier, a policeman and four civilians, while 24 civilians, rebels and soldiers were wounded.

About 200 residents were held hostage by rebels in a village near Rio Hondo.

The Moro group signed a 1996 peace accord with the
government but hundreds of fighters held on to their arms.

They have accused officials of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for Muslims in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines.


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