MANILA (UPDATE) – A commander of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and seven other followers of Nur Misuari were arrested in Zamboanga City before dawn on Tuesday, Interior Secretary Manuel "Mar" Roxas II said.
In an interview with dzMM, Roxas identified the arrested MNLF commander as Salip Idjal.
Idjal and seven other Misuari followers were among the 14 apprehended by government troops earlier today.
After a tactical interrogation, authorities confirmed that six of the 14 were civilians. Of the 6 civilians, 4 had been held hostage.
Roxas also confirmed the death of another MNLF commander, Dasta Ismael, earlier this week.
Fresh clashes erupted today in the mangrove plantation covering the coastal barangays of Talon-Talon, Mariki and Layag-Layag as at least 15 MNLF fighters tried to escape from the advancing government troops.
One MNLF rebel, identified as Yaya Yusoph, was reported killed in the clash. The two hostages of Yusoph were rescued.
On Monday, soldiers were also able to rescue 3 more hostages and neutralize another member of the Misuari group. However, seven soldiers were wounded during the operations.
Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala told dzMM that the rebels are now confined in a small area and there are only a few houses left that need to be cleared before residents are allowed to return to their homes.
"Sa area of restriction maliit na lang talaga masasabi nating halos tapos na ito. Kaya lang nag-iingat tayo dahil may hostage sa loob. Patuloy iyung pagmo-monitor natin, napapaligiran na natin yung mga lugar na yan," Zagala said.
"Iyung mga bahay kung saan kami nag-ooperate, malaki siya, dikit-dikit. Inaavoid din na magkatamaan."
The conflict in Zamboanga is now on its 16th day. At least 12 soldiers and 3 policemen have died in the fighting.
Over 100 perished on the side of the MNLF while around 80 have been arrested or captured. - with dzMM; Ron Gagalac, ABS-CBN News