MANILA, Sept. 9, 2013— Church leaders strongly condemned fresh atrocities in Southern Philippines that cost lives, joining calls for an end to fighting in Zamboanga City. 

Msgr. Crisologo Manongas, administrator of the Archdiocese of Zamboanga, said he is outraged by the incident, noting that civilians, especially children, are most affected by the fighting. 

Some 100 heavily armed followers of Moro National Liberation Front former chairman Nur Misuari have attacked Zamboanga City Monday and taken at least 30 civilian hostages as “human shields.”   

At least six people were reported killed while 24 were injured in the clash between government forces and the MNLF, which erupted early Monday morning. 

“We appeal to the MNLF leadership not to involve the innocent civilians in their political demands. Negotiations with arms will not resolve anything,” Manongas said. 

“We are appealing to them to lay down their arms,” he said. 

Meanwhile, hundreds of evacuees have taken refuge in parts of the city as clashes between the military and the rebels continue. 

Manongas said churches in the archdiocese were opened up for both Christians and Muslims that have been affected by the attack. 

According to him, they allowed their churches to be used as evacuation centers for residents trying to avoid being caught in the middle of the hostilities. 

“We are mobilizing our social action center for the evacuees… It’s a mix of Catholics and Muslims there,” said Manongas. 

Manongas said there is no reason for Muslim evacuees to be rejected since all civilians reject the ongoing conflict. 

“This is not a religious conflict. This is a political conflict. There’s no animosity between Muslims and Christians. We have a good relationship with Muslim religious leaders,” he added. 

Reports revealed that the rebels seek to hoist their group’s flag in the city hall of Zamboanga City to highlight their declaration of independence. 

Last month, Misuari, also a former Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao governor, declared independence for Palawan, Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and even Sabah, which is controlled by Malaysia. 

Manongas, then, appealed to the government not to give in to the demands of the MNLF despite the threats the rebels are sending. 

“That’s unacceptable. I do not think the government should give in. It is unacceptable that the government gives in to the demands. We negotiate but no giving in,” he said. (CBCPNews)