The Philippine military is locked in a tense standoff with an Islamic militant group that the military says is holding hundreds of people hostage as human shields. The drama began yesterday when about 300 Moro National Liberation Front gunmen landed boats on the coastal city of Zamboanga, intent on marching to city hall, raising their flag, and declaring an independent state. That started a battle on land and sea between the military and the rebels, with a naval blockade fending off rebel reinforcements, Reuters reports.
A MNLF spokesman described the turmoil as government forces attacking a peaceful march through the city. Houses were set on fire, and firefighters were unable to reach them thanks to sniper fire. The predominantly Christian port city is home to 800,000 people, and about 500 elite US anti-terrorism troops. Philippine authorities say around 200 people are trapped in four militant-occupied neighborhoods. "It doesn't appear that they are being treated as hostages, because they are free to move about," the interior minister tells the New York Times.