Philippine rebels briefly hold police chief
The police chief of a city in the southern Philippines was briefly held captive Tuesday by Muslim rebels who have been fighting security forces for the past several days.
Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo was negotiating with the rebels for the release of more civilians Tuesday morning "when he was himself abducted at gunpoint and held hostage by the rebel group," the Philippine National Police said.
His capture took place in a coastal area of mangroves near Zamboanga City, a major trading hub that has been paralyzed for more than a week after the rebels took large numbers of people hostage.
Malayo re-emerged later Tuesday, bringing with him 23 suspected rebels who had surrendered, officials said.
That drama came on the same day that authorities announced significant progress against the rebels. Officials said that about 150 hostages had been rescued.
It was unclear how many people remained captive.
Since Friday, the Philippine armed forces have been carrying out an operation to try to "constrict" the rebels, who came ashore early last week and took as many as 180 hostages in several coastal districts. Military attack helicopters fired rockets at rebel positions Monday.
The recent violence has significantly disrupted life in Zamboanga, a mainly Christian city on the southwestern tip of Mindanao, the southernmost island in the Philippines.
The crisis has increased fears of instability in a region where the Philippine central government is pursuing a new peace plan after decades of unrest.
President Benigno Aquino III and other top Philippine officials are overseeing authorities' response.
Authorities estimate the violence has left more than 100 people dead, most of them rebels, and displaced more than 80,000 residents.
Military officials say they have captured scores of rebels and handed them over to police.
The unrest has also closed schools and businesses. Hundreds of houses have caught fire during the fighting. Authorities have accused the rebels of deliberately starting the fires.
The rebels are believed to be a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front, a separatist movement founded in 1971 by Nur Misuari with the aim of establishing an autonomous region for Muslims in the mainly Catholic Philippines. The MNLF signed a peace deal with the central government in Manila in 1996, but some of its members have broken away to continue a violent campaign.
Last month, Misuari issued a "declaration of independence" for the Moro nation -- referring to Mindanao's indigenous Muslim population -- after complaining that the MNLF had been left out of a recent wealth-sharing agreement with another insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has fought for decades to set up an independent Islamic state on resource-rich Mindanao.
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