The Philippines: Clearing operation continues in Zamboanga, more bodies recovered

ZAMBOANGA CITY (Mindanao Examiner / Oct. 2, 2013) – Police on Wednesday said at least 30 mostly decomposing bodies of separatist rebels slain in fierce clashes with troops have been recovered in the past three days in Zamboanga City in southern Philippines.

Police and military said more than 100 rebels have been killed in the fighting and that 134 cadavers had been processed by forensic experts and that eight of the bodies belonged to civilians.

Aside from cadavers, police and military teams clearing the villages of Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina also recovered 165 mostly unexploded grenades.

“The second phase of the clearing operation which started Sunday is going and so far we have recovered 165 hand grenades and also 40mm grenades and 30 cadavers, many are decomposing or in the state of decomposition,” Chief Inspector Ariel Huesca, a regional spokesman, told the Mindanao Examiner regional newspaper.

He said security forces under Task Force Suyud have so far cleared at least 130 structures and establishments in those areas. “Civilians are not allowed to return to the villages until clearing operations are completed. It’s for the safety of the civilians and everybody,” he said.

Fighting erupted after Moro National Liberation Front rebels led by Ustadz Khabir Malik assaulted several villages and took over 200 people hostage and used then as shield.

Authorities said most of the hostages have been freed by rebels or rescued by troops since the violence began in September 9 when rebels arrived by boats from Basilan and Sulu provinces without being detected by the police and military.

The clashes displaced more than 100,000 people. The number of refugees had resulted in a humanitarian crisis in Zamboanga and seriously affected the economy of the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

Rebel chieftain Nur Misuari, who signed a peace accord with Manila in 1996, accused the Aquino government of reneging on the peal deal and launched a new rebellion, the second in more than a decade. In 2001, loyal forces of Misuari also attacked military bases in Zamboanga City and Jolo town in Sulu province and the clashes killed over 100 people.

Misuari is still in hiding, but police are considering putting up a bounty for his capture.