Philippines: Helicopters fire rockets on Muslim rebels

Smoke billows from burning houses as fighting between government troops and Muslim rebels rages in Zamboanga City (16 September 2013)
Image caption The rebels are still in control of two coastal neighbourhoods of Zamboanga

Government forces in the Philippines have begun firing rockets from helicopters in an attempt to dislodge Muslim rebels who have been holding parts of the city of Zamboanga for the past week.

The insurgents say they want to establish an independent Muslim state on the southern island of Mindanao.

Zamboanga has been brought to a standstill by the week-long siege.

An unknown number of civilians are still trapped with the insurgents.

The rebels are from the Moro National Liberation Front, one of a number of splinter groups fighting for independence from Manila.

Analysts say the group's leader, Nur Misuari, is angry because his faction has been sidelined in government peace talks.

The gunmen arrived last Monday in Zamboanga - a city of one million people - by boat, and apparently tried to march on the city hall to hoist their flag.

On Friday government forces launched an assault to regain control. Around 3,000 troops are taking part in the campaign.

Helicopters were brought in on Monday to add to their firepower but the ferocity of the fighting has raised fears for the fate of civilians, reports the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head.

Fifty-one militants have been killed, according to a spokesman for the military.

Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said that six members of the security forces and four civilians had died.

The government is no longer talking about negotiating with the rebels and now want to end the battle quickly, and decisively, our correspondent says.

Image caption Government forces launched an assault to regain control on Friday

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