By BosNewsLife Asia Service
MANILA, PHILIPPINES (BosNewsLife)– Muslim rebels joined forces to fight government troops Thursday, September 12, raising concerns about a pastor and several other Christians who were believed to remain among some 180 hostages in the southern Philippines.
Three soldiers were injured in Thursday’s clash, which occurred at 9:30 a.m.local time in the village of Lamitan on the troubled southern Philippine island of Basilan, according to a statement from the country’s military.
Basilan government officials told a local radio station that five people from the area were missing after the attack.
The latest firefight broke out on an island adjacent to the heavily Christian Zamboanga City where sporadic and intermittent gunfire was heard for a fourth day on Thursday, September 12, as armed forces continued to clash with Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels.
The Muslim fighters were holding as many as 180 people hostage on the Philippine island of Mindanao, officials said, though earlier reports claimed the real number of hostages and villagers involved in the stand-off may be as high as nearly 300.
Among those detained was a pastor, whose name was not released amid security concerns, as well as other believers, Christians said.
Lt. Colonel Ramon Zagala, spokesman for the Philippines Armed Forces (AFP), explained in a statement that government had “contained” an estimated 180 MNLF rebels in five districts of Zamboanga City.
“Right now we went to ensure that we keep them in those locations so they can’t get in and they can’t get out,” he told reporters. “But unfortunately they are holding between 160 and 180 hostages.”
The clashes raised questions about the strength of a peace deal agreed last October with the largest larger Muslim rebel group, MNLF, to end four decades of conflict that killed 120,000 people and displaced two million.
The MNLF has been fighting for an Islamic state for Muslim Moro, who comprise the largest non-Christian group in the Philippines, at around 10 percent of a total 97 million Filipinos.
Witnesses said houses were still on fire on Thursday, September 12, as soldiers retook a district that rebels occupied for several days.
Amid the ensuing chaos, a local church has been tending to casualties, said World Watch Monitor, the news service of well-informed Open Doors, a Christian advocacy and aid group.
Christians said over 800 have fled their homes, including from the busy Rio Hondo area, where Monday’s battle began in Zamboanga city, some 860 kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila, the capital.