MANILA, Sept. 18 (Xinhua) -- Tension in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga eases as government troops corner Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters.
Military officials said "pockets of resistance" waned as the Zamboanga City crisis entered its tenth day on Wednesday, as more MNLF fighters either surrender or killed in the clash.
Armed Forces Spokesman Brig. Gen. Domingo Tutaaan said the number of MNLF fighters still holed out in some areas in Zamboanga City is now down to about 70 men. Ninety three of them died from the fighting, while 179 were either captured or surrendered.
Tutaan said they're now focusing "calibrated" military operation in the villages of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Catalina. MNLF leader Ustadz Habier Malik is believed to be in either of these two villages.
According to Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, public affairs chief of the Armed Forces, the MNLF can't sustain their fight against government troops owing to shortage in ammunition.
"They (MNLF rebels) are low on ammunition. The momentum is ours, " he said.
Zagala won't say if the government troops are on their final stage of the operation. But he stressed that the campaign is being carried out on a deliberate manner so as not to harm the civilians that MNLF rebels abducted and used as human shields.
Tutaan reported that a total of 11 soldiers, three policemen and seven civilians were also killed in the conflict. He said the number of injured is 105 on the military side, 12 on the police side, and 67 on the civilian side.
Tutaan said a total of 152 hostages have been rescued but the number of remaining captives in the hands of the MNLF fighters is still less than a hundred.
Tutaan said clearing operations are now ongoing in areas, previously held by the MNLF fighters, that are now in government control. He said unexploded ordnance and firearms have been initially found in these areas.
He said the clearing operations are meant to ensure that areas are safe, prior to the return of displaced residents.
In a separate briefing, Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda assured that the government will help the over 100,000 residents displaced by the fighting in Zambonga City.
He said they are assessing the extent of the damage in the city and the corresponding support that the government could provide.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) had earlier assured that there is enough funds to sustain the immediate needs of the increasing number of evacuees affected by the standoff .
Lacierda also said that assessment on the impact of the standoff on the economy especially of the province is being done at present.
He said assessments are also being done on the ground to determine if the crisis is finally over, as well as the possible charges against the MNLF faction that conducted the attack.
"The final statement as to when the crisis is over will be done on the ground. So let's wait for a statement by any of the officials there in Zamboanga City - far from us to say when it's over. It's better for the people on the ground to state it," he said.
Lacierda said President Aquino has been in Zamboanga since Friday to provide directives and support to the forces on the ground.