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Filipino troops retake 70 percent of rebel-held villages

  • Police investigators examine the scene of an explosion as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Police investigators examine the scene of an explosion as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • A Government trooper from Task Force Zamboanga fires 60mm mortars as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    A Government trooper from Task Force Zamboanga fires 60mm mortars as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • A government trooper clears the way for an armored personnel carrier to make an assault where renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    A government trooper clears the way for an armored personnel carrier to make an assault where renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • A government trooper prepares to take his position as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    A government trooper prepares to take his position as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Government troopers take their positions as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    Government troopers take their positions as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • Police investigators examine the scene of an explosion as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in the southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • A Government trooper from Task Force Zamboanga fires 60mm mortars as renewed fighting between Government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city, southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in the city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • A government trooper clears the way for an armored personnel carrier to make an assault where renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • A government trooper prepares to take his position as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages and used them as human shields, enters its second week Monday Sept. 16, 2013 at Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • Government troopers take their positions as renewed fighting between government forces and Muslim rebels, who have taken scores of hostages, enters its second week Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 in Zamboanga city in southern Philippines. The standoff, which began last Monday when about 200 Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas stormed several coastal communities in Zamboanga city and seized several residents, has displaced more than 60,000, hundreds of homes razed to the ground, forced the closure of businesses and resulted in more than 50 deaths so far. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Filipino troops have recaptured 70 percent of the coastal areas by a southern city that were occupied by Muslim rebels, the military said, adding helicopter gunships were deployed for the first time yesterday as a hostage standoff dragged to its second week.

Troops and special police forces have killed or arrested more than 100 Moro National Liberation Front rebels, who occupied five coastal villages, after government forces foiled what officials said was an attempt by the heavily armed insurgents to take control of Zamboanga City Hall on Sept. 8.

But about 100 rebels remained holed up with more than 100 hostages. Government troops were continuing a push against the insurgents but were wary of causing any harm to the captives, military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said, adding it was difficult to say when the fighting will end.

Troops have tried to contain the clashes in the coastal outskirts of Zamboanga, a largely Christian city of nearly 1 million people, but suspected rebel mortar fire destroyed a car near the city’s downtown area yesterday, raising fears the gunmen were attempting to divert the military’s attention.

Nearly 82,000 residents have fled the fighting into several emergency shelters, including the city’s main sports complex.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said about 850 houses had been destroyed amid fierce exchanges of gunfire and occasional bursts of mortar rounds and grenades. The police said some fires may have been deliberately set by rebels to cover their escapes.

President Benigno Aquino III is in Zamboanga, a bustling port 540 miles south of Manila, to oversee the handling of the worst security crisis his administration has faced since he came to power in 2010.

The Moro insurgents, led by Nur Misuari, signed a peace deal in 1996, but the guerrillas did not lay down their arms and later accused the government of reneging on a promise to develop long-neglected Muslim regions in the south of the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

The rebels have become increasingly restive in recent months as they’ve been overshadowed by a rival rebel group that engaged Aquino’s government in peace talks brokered by Malaysia. The talks have steadily progressed toward a new and potentially larger autonomy deal for minority Muslims in the south.

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