- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines Warplanes and helicopter gunships pounded a compound of Muslim rebels who were holding dozens of hostages in the southern Philippines early this morning. The insurgents threatened to kill their captives unless the shooting stops.

Fighters loyal to renegade Gov. Nur Misuari showed reporters 50 hostages held inside a 150-acre compound, which houses offices of the autonomous regional government of Muslim Mindanao. It was not immediately clear if they held more.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Edilberto Adan said one civilian was killed and seven were injured in the fighting, occurring about four miles from the center of Zamboanga, the region's main city. He said one soldier was also wounded.

Mr. Misuari was charged with rebellion and arrested over the weekend after his loyalists last week attacked an army base on a southern island, reneging on a 1996 peace agreement.

Elections were held yesterday to replace him and the army told his backers to leave the government compound, about four miles from the Zamboanga city center.

Gen. Adan said the rebellion is being led by Mr. Misuari's nephew, Julhambri Misuari.

Officials said about 5,000 people living near the complex fled to evacuation centers. Roadblocks were put up around Zamboanga, a city of 750,000 people. The civilian airport was shut down. Schools, banks and many stores did not open.

Earlier today, the rebels sent out hostage Jose Mari Bue, a local newspaper editor, telling the military that the rebels "want a safe passage."

"They want to exit and escape," he said.

Mr. Bue, business editor of the Zamboanga Times, was taken hostage along with his family from their home near the compound, reported the Radio Mindanao Network.

Florita Orquito, a 43-year-old hostage who escaped amid the fighting, also told reporters the rebels moved quietly into neighborhoods near the complex and took hostages before the fighting began.

Other civilians called local radio stations to say that they were trapped by fighting in the complex, known as Cabatangan, and couldn't leave unless the shooting stops.

Maj. Reno Tolentino of the Zamboanga military detachment said the fighting started when the rebels attacked an army outpost near the complex.

Journalists, who had been in the Muslim region for an election to pick a successor to Mr. Misuari, said helicopter gunships hovered over the complex. Witnesses said three aircraft dropped bombs into Cabatangan.

Thousands of troops and police were deployed throughout the southern Muslim region yesterday amid steady rumors of planned attacks by Misuari supporters to disrupt the elections.

Mr. Misuari's supporters protesting against the election attacked an army base last week. More than 100 Misuari loyalists, seven civilians and four soldiers were killed in the fighting, the military said.

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