Philippine hostages freed, but Muslim rebels seize city police chief
ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES (AFP) - Dozens of people held hostage by Muslim rebels waging deadly street battles with Philippine troops escaped on Tuesday amid a military offensive, but the guerrillas managed to kidnap the city's police chief.
Sixty-one people have died and 70,000 residents displaced since the standoff in the southern city of Zamboanga began more than a week ago, when hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) gunmen sought to plant an independence flag. Hundreds of other civilians had remained trapped as the rebels sought shelter from a military assault in Muslim neighbourhoods of the city, with some of the residents used as hostages or human shields.
After a relentless military offensive involving helicopter rocket attacks, which began ON Friday and saw the rebels lose much of the territory they had occupied, 149 people escaped on Monday night and Tuesday morning, the authorities said.
The shell-shocked men, women and children were tearfully reunited away from the frontlines with their relatives, who had waited in anguish for days.