MANILA - Rogue Muslim rebels launched an audacious assault in the southern Philippines on Monday, taking control of several villages and shutting down a major port in the biggest challenge to a peace deal signed by the government last year.
The attack by hundreds of heavily armed guerrillas on Zamboanga City highlights the fragility of the deal agreed last October with a larger rebel group to end four decades of conflict.
Transport officials suspended commercial flights and ferry services to the city of around 800,000. Schools, public offices and businesses were closed as gunfire rang out from clashes between soldiers and the estimated 200-300 invaders.
Six people were killed and 24 wounded as the rebels tried to force their way to the city center, Mayor Isabelle Climaco-Salazar said in a statement. About 3,000 people had fled their homes, she said.
Army commanders said the rebels landed in two coastal villages early on Monday and were trying to reach the city center to raise their flag over the city hall.
"They want to hoist their flag. We will not allow that," Colonel Andrelino Colina told a radio station.
Army spokesman Brigadier General Domingo Tutaan said about 200-300 people were "stranded" in a village occupied by the rebels. Officials had earlier said that dozens of civilians had been taken hostage.