Philippines: More Muslim rebels surrender in Philippines’ south

More Muslim rebels have surrendered in the Philippines’ south, a day after the UN said the ongoing fighting has resulted in a humanitarian crisis.

The military is believed to have custody of at least 40 members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city.

The UN said on Wednesday that fighting between troops and rebels has displaced thousands.

The MNLF have been holed up in villages in Zamboanga since 9 September.

A video from ABS CBN News on Thursday showed the rebels aboard a vehicle headed for the police station in the city.

Reports say that nearly 300 rebels have surrendered since the fighting began, but the exact number remains unclear.

Troops have been engaging in gun battles with the rebels, who have been holding civilians hostage and using some of them as human shields.

Close to 200 hostages have been rescued, the Philippine military said on its official Twitter account. Scores of others have also been wounded and property in the area of fighting damaged.

The government has also started filing rebellion charges against the MNLF rebels, officials say.

Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has reported “serious abuses” of human rights on both sides.

‘Overcrowded and unsanitary’

On Thursday, Zamboanga City Mayor Beng Climaco said in a statement that residents need to hold on despite the crisis.

“This crisis taught us to be faithful, to be patient and to be persevering. Our patience is tested but we need to hold on. We cannot give up, we are are not giving up,” she said.

Government troopers patrol to secure the city streets as fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels continues Saturday, 21 September, 2013 in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines Government troops have been battling Muslim rebels in Zamboanga

Despite the situation there are signs that the city has resumed normal activity. Commercial flights began last week, seaports were open on Thursday and classes were held for the second day.

Carlos Conde, the Philippines researcher for Human Rights Watch, said that by the end of last week, some shops and restaurants had started to reopen, “although some sections were still closed and heavily guarded by police officers”.

The United Nations in a statement warned about the growing humanitarian crisis in the area.

“We are increasingly alarmed by the situation and the growing needs of people caught up with violence,” said Luiza Carvalho, UN resident and humanitarian co-ordinator in the Philippines.

An estimate by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that 158,000 people have been affected by the violence. The UN says that at least 132 people have died as a result of the stand-off.

It says tens of thousands of people have been displaced and are living in temporary shelters in Zamboanga. At least 70,000 are now camped out at a sports stadium in the city in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, it added.

Mr Conde said: “Half the residents displaced by war have lost their homes to the fires that resulted from this conflict.”

There were sanitation problems at the main stadium where internally displaced persons were camped, he said, and “law and order problems” were arising.

“We are getting reports of women being molested,” he said.

The MNLF is one of a number of splinter groups fighting for independence from Manila.

It is thought the MNLF are angry at being sidelined from peace talks between another Muslim rebel group and the government.