MANILA, Sept. 14, 2013— Catholic bishops in Mindanao called on the government and the Muslim rebels to step up efforts in dialogue, to find a peaceful settlement to the conflict. 

In a statement, the 18 archbishops and bishops of the island said the government and the Moro National Liberation Front must sit down, talk and find a solution by dialogue. 

“We appeal to them to discuss the deeper issues regarding the ongoing MILF-GPH (Moro Islamic Liberation Front – Government of the Philippines) peace negotiations that the armed groups wanted to raise by their action,” part of the statement read. 

Ever since the siege began, the church leaders said Zamboanga is “virtually paralyzed” and in a “state of fear.” 

Government authorities said that the death toll from hostilities was already at 53 and 70 others were wounded as of Saturday noon. 

The number of displaced people has also reached around 62,000 on the sixth day of the siege. 

“We are deeply saddened and disturbed by this terrible tragedy to human life and property. We express our solidarity with all those affected Muslims and Christians alike,” the bishops said. 

“We condemn the terror that has been inflicted on an entire city. We condemn the inhumane act of using hostages as human shields,” they added. 

The bishops also appeal to the government, non-government organizations and civil society to provide assistance to evacuees. 

The church leaders called on the MNLF and the government to negotiate “for the release of hostages.” 

“As leaders of our Catholic communities, we join hands with other religious leaders —Muslims, Christians, and Lumad — in praying and working for peace. Peace, yes; war, never,” they also said. (CBCPNews)