A soldier stands guard during clearing operations in Zamboanga City, southern Philippines, after a nearly three-week stand-off between the army and the rebels.
MANILA: The military has no immediate plans to pull out troops from Zamboanga City even as officials have declared the crisis over after 22 days of clashes between government troops and members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF)-Nur Misuari faction.
Armed Forces public affairs chief Lt Col Ramon Zagala said soldiers would continue to support law enforcers in clearing operations, which might take about two weeks.
“During this two-week period, we will help them (in the clearing operations). We will pull out one unit just to rest but they will be replaced,” Zagala said.
He said they have no plans to downsize their troops in the area, which is still reeling from recent clashes between state forces and followers of Misuari. “This is now a law enforcement operation and based on this we are looking for stragglers,” he said.
He called on the remnants of the Misuari faction to surrender, saying resisting was useless.
Meanwhile, officials were still unsure about the whereabouts of MNLF commander Habier Malik, the leader of the rebels involved in the 20-day crisis that began September 9.
“We cannot tell yet whether he (Malik) is dead or captured or whether he escaped. If he escaped, I’m sure he won’t repeat it again. It will take a long time before he can launch another offensive like that,” Defence Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said.
An identification card of Malik was found last Sunday on one of the bodies recovered in Zamboanga City but officials said the dead rebel is not the MNLF commander. “I know it’s important that we find Malik but really, we have to find out the real commander,” Zagala said.
The Philippine Star