MANILA – Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) chairman Nur Misuari is disowning the actions of one of his top commanders currently engaged in a standoff with government forces in Zamboanga City, a local official said Thursday.
The Zamboanga City government, in its official Twitter account, quoted Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco as saying that she was finally able to talk to Misuari.
Climaco said Misuari disowned the actions of his top lieutenant, Habier Malik.
Malik is allegedly leading the MNLF men in Zamboanga City who have held hostage at least 170 civilians.
"Last night I was able to talk to Chairman Nur Misuari hoping that it would pave the way for the peaceful end of this crisis," Climaco said.
"Misuari disowned the actions of Habier Malik, the leader of the hostage-takers with whom I communicated separately."
The Armed Forces of the Philippines, however, said it does not believe that Malik acted on his own.
Misuari told this to Climaco even as his spokesperson, Emmanuel Fontanilla, has been repeatedly making appeals to the government to engage the MNLF faction in talks instead of pursuing a military option.
Fontanilla earlier said the Misuari followers went to the city to hold a "peace caravan." He accused the military of triggering the standoff.
The standoff began about a month after Misuari declared independence for Mindanao, Palawan and parts of Malaysia.
The declaration of independence was triggered by what the group believes is the government's abandonment of tripartite review of the 1996 final peace agreement in favor of holding peace talks with an MNLF breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
At least 13,000 Zambaonga residents have already fled their homes as the fighting continues. The standoff has left at least 12 dead.
Climaco said she is now holding talks with ulamas and religious leaders who have expressed willingness to help the city resolve the standoff.
The mayor also assured the affected residents in the 6 barangays affected by the standoff that "we have more than enough security and food in our shelters."
She also appealed anew to the MNLF men to free the hostages, especially the elderly, the sick, the children and people with disabilities.