Zamboanga is a virtual "ghost city" Monday after incoming and outgoing flights were cancelled, government offices shut down, and universities closed as Philippine troops remain locked in a standoff with Muslim rebels.
The tension began early Monday when hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front gunmen reportedly stormed Zamboanga's coastal villages, killed six people, and took at least 20 hostages
, Armed Forces of the Philippines Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala told reporters.
"They were trying to march on the city hall and we cannot allow that," Zagala told a news conference Monday in Manila.
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Al Jazeera put the hostage count at more than 200
, and reported that the civilians were being used as a "human shield."
The attack was reportedly an attempt to sabotage peace talks that would have ended a 42-year-old rebellion that has cost some 150,000 lives.
"[MNLF leader Nur] Misuari's motive is to convey a message… [that] the signing of the peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will no longer guarantee the end of war," Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of the Manila security think-tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence, and Terrorism Research, said in a statement.
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