2013-09-14 Vatican Radio
(Vatican Radio) Fighting intensified in the Southern Philippines on Saturday, where government troops continued to battle Muslim separatists in suburbs of Zamboanga city. More than 50 people have died since the siege began on Monday. Meanwhile, rebels are reported still to be holding residents as human shields.
Philippine troops stepped up efforts to try to force rebels from buildings they seized in Zamboanga city. The insurgents are well armed. At one point they apparently fired a mortar at government forces, which wounded several Red Cross workers.
The Philippines president said: “The prime objective is to save lives.” But a Catholic priest caught up in the siege has been describing the ordeal some of the hostages are facing. Father Michael Ufana said he himself was a held as a hostage until his release on Friday.
Whenever the military attacked, he said, the rebels would force us to become their human shields. Then, after the firefight they would lock us up again in detention.
Government officials say those trapped in two schools are running short of food. An estimated 60,000 residents have fled, and hundreds of buildings are now destroyed.
A ceasefire had been due on Saturday, after telephone talks between the Philippines vice president and the head of a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front. But it is unclear whether all the fighters answer to that one group, as some reports say the force appears to be a coalition of islamists and independence seekers.