ZAMBOANGA, Philippines: Muslim rebels, who have been under attack by Philippine troops after taking scores of residents hostage in southern Zamboanga city, struck back Tuesday by abducting its police chief, complicating already-tough efforts to end the nine-day hostage standoff.
Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo was trying to persuade about 20 Moro National Liberation Front rebels to surrender on the outskirts of the city when the gunmen grabbed him and held him at gunpoint, national police Deputy Director-General Felipe Rojas said.
Interior Secretary Mar Roxas said efforts were under way to rescue Malayo, but he gave no details, including on where he may be held.
Just before Malayo and four of his men were taken hostage, army forces battled rebels in the same area, killing one gunman and capturing three others, the military said.
During a break in the fighting, Malayo tried to persuade the rebels to surrender to avoid more deaths, Rojas said.
"Unfortunately, he was held hostage," Rojas told a news conference.
The abduction complicates a push by government soldiers to end the standoff that began Sept. 9 when the troops foiled a suspected plan by the rebels to take control of Zamboanga, a major port of nearly 1 million people about 860 kilometers (540 miles) south of Manila.
The military says it has recaptured 70 percent of the coastal areas occupied by the rebels and rescued more than 100 hostages.
About 64 hostages were freed or escaped during military operations early Tuesday, followed by another 14 who walked to freedom in separate batches. That brought to 116 the number of those rescued in the last 18 hours, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala.
He said more than 100 Moro National Liberation Front rebels were still holding hostages in the remaining pockets they control in five coastal villages in Zamboanga.
Nearly 82,000 residents have fled the fighting into several emergency shelters, including the city's main sports complex.
President Benigno Aquino III has been in Zamboanga since Friday 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.