MANILA -- At least two Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fighters were killed in Zamboanga City as the gunfight between the Nur Misuar-led group and government troops entered its seventh day Sunday.
An official from the Philippine Army's 32nd Infantry Battalion said two MNLF fighters were killed in Sta. Catalina village on Saturday evening.
The bodies of the two alleged MNLF fighters were recovered Sunday morning. The military found M16 rifles from the slain rebels.
Another alleged MNLF rebel, identified as Kahar Hiya, was also arrested in Talon-Talon village on Sunday morning. Hiya said he wanted to be spared from the ongoing firefight, and claimed that he was just recruited by a certain Ali Dawili.
Prior to Hiya's arrest, the military also arrested at least six MNLF men in Barangay Catalina on Saturday evening.
Some of the arrested men denied being part of MNLF, but a certain Jun Hassan admitted affiliation with the group.
Hassan said they were only told that they will hold a peace rally in the city following the MNLF-Misuari faction's declaration of independence.
Sunday's skirmishes were concentrated in Sta. Catalina village, where a fire was also gutting a residential area near Zamboanga City Medical Center.
Radio dzMM reporter Edwin Sevidal said at least six men with their hands tied were seen being escorted by soldiers near Southern City Colleges.
The six men boarded an ambulance with the soldiers. It was not yet clear, however, whether the men were hostages recently freed by the MNLF rebels.
The government said some 53 people were killed and 70 wounded by the skirmishes. Of the fatalities, 43 were reported to be from the MNLF side.
At least 40 MNLF rebels have also surrendered, according to Zamboanga City Police.
About 69,000 people have been displaced, with some turning desperate after their homes were burned down by alleged MNLF rebels as part of their strategy.
The government earlier said between 50 and 100 MNLF fighters were still in the conflict areas, and "clearing" operations were being conducted to put the siege to an end.
At least 3,000 government troops were deployed to contain the situation.
Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II said the fighters were still holding at least seven civilian hostages, down from the nearly 200 when the crisis erupted Monday last week.
Roxas said the incursion of the rebels are now limited to Sta. Barbara, Sta. Catalina, and a part of Talon-Talon.
Vice President Jejomar Binay earlier announced that he had brokered a ceasefire between the MNLF and government troops, but the plan was abandoned.
The MNLF fighters linked to the faction of Misuari, the group's founding chairman, laid siege in the southern Mindanao city as the government was on the final stage of the finalizing its peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Misuari felt left out by the deal, saying the government seemed to have abandoned the previous peace deal it forged with the MNLF in 1996.
Meanwhile, the Palace denied reports it feels pressure to end the Zamboanga crisis before US President Barack Obama visits Manila next month.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the government wants to end the conflict not because of Obama but because they want to achieve peace in Mindanao.
Obama will visit manila on October 11 and 12 as part of a four-nation tour in the Asia Pacific.
The White House said Obama will meet with President Benigno Aquino III to reaffirm the strong economic, people to people, and security ties between their nations. – with ANC; Edwin Sevidal, dzMM; and RJ Rosalado, ABS-CBN News Zamboanga