Troops free civilians in Philippine rebel stand-off

Footage captures the moment civilians were freed after a week in captivity, as Catharina Moh reports

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Dozens of civilians held by Muslim rebels in a stand-off in the Philippine south have been freed as troops gained ground, the military said.

Soldiers have reportedly taken about 70% of areas held by fighters from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Zamboanga city on Tuesday.

A local police chief, earlier reported as abducted by rebels, has also been released, local reports say.

The MNLF have been holed up in villages in Zamboanga since 9 September.

Troops have been engaging in gun battles with the rebels, who have been using civilians as human shields.

A military spokesman said that they had been able to rescue more than 140 hostages on Tuesday.

"They [the rebels] have nearly run out of bullets. They are practically defeated," military spokesman Lt Col Ramon Zagala told Agence-France Presse news agency.

It remained unclear, however, how many more civilians were being held as the stand-off continued.

Map of Philippines

Television reports showed exhausted hostages boarding buses taking them away from the front line after being released or escaping.

Meanwhile, local police chief Jose Chiquito Malayo, who was reported captured by rebels earlier on Tuesday, has been freed, officials and local media say.

Officials add that Mr Malayo managed to persuade some of the rebels to end their stand-off with the military and surrender.

It was not immediately clear how the release of Mr Malayo and his companions came about.

The death toll since the fighting began has risen to close to 100 - most of them rebels, according to the authorities.

Some 80,000 residents have been displaced by the fighting in the southern city in Mindanao. On Monday, Philippine forces carried out helicopter airstrikes on rebel-held areas.

After heavy fighting on Monday, there is a sense that the worst in Zamboanga is now over, says the BBC's southeast Asia correspondent, Jonah Fisher.

The MNLF is one of a number of splinter groups fighting for independence from Manila.

It is thought the MNLF are angry at being sidelined from peace talks between another Muslim rebel group and the government.

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