Philippine clashes: President warns Muslim rebels in Zamboanga

Government troops in Zamboanga. Photo: 13 September 2013 Government troops have been fighting the rebels since Monday

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Philippine President Benigno Aquino has warned Muslim rebels not to harm seized civilians in the southern city of Zamboanga, amid continuing fighting.

Visiting the city, he said government troops had "overwhelming" force and would not hesitate to use it.

But Mr Aquino stressed that he wanted the five-day crisis to be resolved without risking heavy casualties.

Some 100 people are said to be held as hostages by the rebels. More than 22 people have died in the clashes.

About 15,000 residents have been forced to flee their homes after nearly 200 rebels infiltrated the city in Mindanao on Monday.

The army has since been trying to drive out the insurgents, who belong to a faction of the separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

'No deadline'

"Our forces and equipment on the ground are overwhelming," Mr Aquino told a news conference in Zamboanga on Friday.

Map

But he added: "We cannot rush this. We have to be deliberate in order to ensure no lives are lost unnecessarily.

"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."

More than 50 people have been injured in the fighting.

There have also been reports that the rebels have moved into a number of nearby villages, using civilians as human shields.

The insurgents have also lit fires in some areas.

The MNLF was founded by Nur Misuari in 1971, with the goal of fighting the Philippine state for an independent Islamic nation. The MNLF then signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996.

However Nur Misuari has complained that his faction has been marginalised in a peace agreement currently being negotiated between the government and another insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

Last month, he declared an independent Muslim state in the southern Philippines.

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