Philippine rebels in deadly attack in Zamboanga

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Media captionFootage shows soldiers firing at rebels, and residents fleeing, as the BBC's South-East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports

Clashes between Philippine troops and hundreds of suspected Muslim rebels have left at least six people dead, officials say.

Suspected members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) moved in on Zamboanga, a city in Mindanao, by boat early on Monday, officials said.

Clashes spread from the coast to the city's busy Rio Hondo area.

The MNLF signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996. However, some of its fighters remain active.

Many residents have fled Rio Hondo to escape the fighting.

"The main target by the MNLF in encroaching Zamboanga city is to raise their banner of independence at city hall," city mayor, Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, told Agence-France Presse (AFP) news agency.

She told media that the clashes have killed at least two security personnel and four civilians.

There were also reports of a number of people who were wounded.

At least 20 residents were being held hostage, reports quoted the military and police as saying.

Armed forces spokesman, Lt Col Ramon Zagala, said that around 800 troops had been deployed to secure the city.

"We are trying to contain them, so that this will not spread elsewhere," he told Agence-France Presse news agency.

'Armed groups'

The incident follows a declaration of independence by the veteran MNLF leader Nur Misuari last month, after he complained that his faction had been frozen out of a peace agreement being negotiated between the government and a larger insurgent group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the BBC's Jonathan Head south east Asia correspondent reports.

Asamin Hussin, National Security Commander for the MNLF, told AP news agency that they wanted independence.

"We want to establish our own Bangsamoro government, not an autonomous government but we want an independent Mindanao as Bangsamoro nation," he said.

Bangsamoro refers to Muslim people in the southern Philippines.

Nur Misuari founded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1971, with the goal of fighting the Philippine state for an independent Islamic nation.

It signed a peace deal with the government in 1996, but continues to be involved in clashes in the southern Philippines.

Many factions have splintered from the MNLF, including the MILF.

The situation in the southern Philippines is complicated by the existence of dozens of different armed groups, some advocating Islamic states, other little more than gangs living off kidnapping, Jonathan Head reports.

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