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‘Siege an act of terror’

But govt still unclear on charges to file against Nur, troops The attacks on Zamboanga City by Moro National Liberation Front rebels led by Nur Misuari was an act of terror, not rebellion, the government told the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. “I told the OIC that what was done in Zamboanga City -- the use of human shields -- is not rebellion but an act of terror,” presidential peace adviser Teresita Deles said in a television interview Wednesday. “They have terrorized communities, and even barangays beyond Zamboanga City have been affected. The image of the whole country is now under question.”
Life goes on. Residents affected by the standoff between the military and MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City rest at their makeshift shelters at an evacuation center along a sea wall. Below, evacuees wash at an evacuation center inside a sports complex. Inset, evacuees dry clothes and rest at an evacuation center near a sports complex. AFP Life goes on. Residents affected by the standoff between the military and MNLF rebels in Zamboanga City rest at their makeshift shelters at an evacuation center along a sea wall. Below, evacuees wash at an evacuation center inside a sports complex. Inset, evacuees dry clothes and rest at an evacuation center near a sports complex. AFP
Deles said she spoke with MNLF commander Habier Malik on Monday and was told the standoff would only be resolved if she communicated with Misuari. But Malik did not give her Misuari’s number, nor did he take further calls from Deles. Deles said Misuari had command responsibility for the loss of lives and property in the Zamboanga attack. “Malik is a loyal commander of Misuari. And you can’t have peace where you can’t enforce the rule of law. The OIC also recognized that,” Deles said. “You can’t have an incident like this and not hold them accountable. That is not just possible,” she said. Police on Wednesday said they were building the case against Misuari and his loyalists even though Zamboanga has not been cleared of Moro rebels. Deputy Chief for Operations Police Director Felipe Rojas Jr. said they have tapped the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to coordinate with the Justice Department to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what charges can be filed in court. Rojas said government forces have further constricted the space controlled by the MNLF rebels as government forces intensified further attacks against their positions. He told a radio interview the rebels held on to only one or two barangays. Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaan Jr., spokesman of the Armed Forces, said what Misuari and his men did against the people of Zamboanga City could be a violation of Republic Act 9851 or the International Humanitarian Law Act. They could also be liable for terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Law. The spokesmen of Misuari, lawyer Emmanuel Fontanilla and Absalom Cervesa, have said the MNLF was in the city to fight their “war for independence,” even though Zamboanga is not part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Earlier, Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar made it clear to Misuari and his men that their city was not a part of the ARMM and the people there would never agree to be part of it. The military said the number of MNLF fatalities has climbed to 81 as the city enters its 10th day of crisis. The government side has suffered more than a dozen dead and hundreds more wounded. Scores of civilians have also been killed or wounded by stray bullets. More than a thousand houses, buildings, and stores have been torched by the rebels in the barangays that were overrun by the MNLF forces. At the start of their attacks, the rebels also took 200 civilian hostages as “human shields”. Authorities said they have freed over 150 hostages, some of whom escaped in the middle of fighting. About 109,000 people have fled their homes since the fighting started and some 188,000 students have been affected by the suspension of classes. The government on Wednesday said it tried but failed to get the MNLF to work with the rival Moro Islamic Liberation Front on the crafting of the Bangsamoro, a new political entity aimed at replacing the ARMM. The creation of the Bangsamoro, and the government’s prposal to end the review process for the 1996 peace agreement with the MNLF, triggered the 10-day hostage standoff in Zamboanga City. In a statement from Kuala Lumpur where negotiations with the MILF are ongoing, government peace panel member Mehol Sadain flatly denied the statement of MNLF founding chairman Nur Misuari that they have been disregarded in the peace process. “We never neglected the aspirations of the Moro National Liberation Front,” Sadain, a Zamboanga-raised Tausug, said. “The Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process and the panel have actually tried to involve them by initiating a means of convergence between the MNLF and the MILF. This is not, however, within our powers, to force them together, because that is to be arranged between the two of them,” he added. Fellow panel member Yasmin Busran Lao said the government invited the MNLF, specifically Misuari and Muslimin Sema, to nominate representatives to the Transition Commission, which will draft the Bangsamoro Basic Law. “Unfortunately they did not recommend anyone. The forming of the Transition Commission was intended to converge all of Bangsamoro to come up with a basic law that will address everyone’s needs, and not just one group,” Lao said. As fighting entered its 10th day in Zamboanga City, Muslims in Metro Manila appealed to President Benigno Aquino III to end the stand-off. “We Muslims at the National Capital Region are saddened by the armed attack happening in Zamboanga right now. Almost one-half of the region is already a ghost town. The local economy is directly affected,” said Datu Basher Alonto, chairman of the Metro Manila Community for Justice. – With Florante Solmerin and  Rio N. Araja
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