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Philippines - Fears return again to Zamboanga

One month before the first anniversary of a siege on a Christian majority city in the Philippines Muslim south in which nearly 200 people died and over 120,000 were left homeless, fear is again returning to the streets, locals worried that insurgency groups are once more trying to take control. Suspected Abu Sayyaf members seized a couple and their neighbor from a grocery store on the west coast of Zamboanga late Monday, whisking the woman away after the husband and the other man escaped - the latest in a spate of kidnappings purported to be by groups opposed to a March 27 peace process between the government and the area's one-time largest Muslim rebel group. Zamboanga Mayor Isabelle "Beng" Climaco Salazar on Tuesday appealed to local residents to remain calm amid reports of security threats in schools and other places. "Refrain from forwarding unverified text messages as these sow panic and confusion," she said, but sought to calm fears by underlining that despite "challenges" the situation in Zamboanga City "remains normal."
On September 2013, rebel group the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) - under the leadership of chairman Nur Misuari - laid siege to Zamboanga to protest the peace deal between breakaway group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the government. Misuari claimed the new deal - signed March 27, named the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro - is a betrayal of a 1996 agreement between the government and MNLF, has left his organization shortchanged, and granted Muslims in the region lesser autonomy. The Abu Sayyaf was originally a splinter group of the MNLF, but broke away in the early 1990s after the MNLF signed its agreement. Philippines authorities have ordered Misuari's arrest, accusing him of ordering the siege. He has since been charged with rebellion and human rights violations.
On Tuesday, Mayor Climaco-Salazar dismissed reports about security threats in schools in Zamboanga, but urged people to remain vigilant yet calm.
"Our police and military remain in control of the situation, as they exhaust all means to curb all forms of lawlessness," the mayor said. She also urged officials and volunteers and the public in general to help keep peace and tranquility.
Police authorities had earlier confirmed that Zamboanga's security remains under threat. Zamboanga City Police Director Senior Superintendent Angelito Casimiro said possible bombings and kidnappings of prominent local residents continue, with the investigation into the threat ongoing. Unconfirmed reports have also circulated via text message that armed men believed to be loyal followers or sympathizers of Misuari are thought to be congregating in villages around the city, aimed at launching another siege.

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