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Hostages caught in Philippine rebel standoff with police

Clashes in the Philippines have become so serious that a third-party mediator must intervene, according to the mayor of the besieged city of Zamboanga. Fighting has displaced over 12,000 people since Monday.

Reports from the southern Filipino city of Zamboanga on Wednesday indicated ongoing standoffs between a rebel faction and security forces had caused thousands of residents to flee their homes. Rebels have trapped some 180 residents in the crossfire and have reportedly been using some of them as human shields.

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'Mediator' needed in Philippines

Zamboanga Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco told local media that members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) - the rebel group which launched the attack over a broken peace deal with the government - have refused to negotiate with local officials.

"This is no longer a local problem, this is an international problem," said Climaco, adding that "the UN should come in."

It was unclear from initial reports whether the demand for an international intervention was the mayor's own idea or a precondition from the MNLF for talks.

At least nine people have been killed in the violence and dozens wounded since Monday when the separatist group began raiding the port city.

Thousands flee to safety

The guerrilla fighters have entered at least four neighborhoods in the city of roughly one million, driving at least 12,000 people from their homes and paralyzing its port.

A government social worker told the news AFP that authorities had been working quickly to accommodate the large influx of displaced persons at a local sports stadium.

"We're trying our best to provide decent facilities for them," social worker Beth Dy, adding that the venue only had four portable toilets and no available bedding.

The MNLF's 42-year rebellion has claimed 150,000 lives. The group signed an accord with the government in 1996, but retained its weapons and has accused officials of reneging on promises of an autonomous region for Muslims in the Mindanao region of the largely Catholic nation.

Last month, the founder of the MNLF, Nur Misuari, urged members to attack government buildings in a call for independence for the Muslim faction.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, a more prominent Muslim group seeking independence, has had more success negotiating with the government. Talks that have been taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia resumed on Tuesday.

kms/mz (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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