Sep 28, 2013

End to Zamboanga threat, but concern for Philippines displaced

The Philippines army says a military campaign against Muslim gunmen opposed to peace talks has ended with close to 500 rebels killed or captured and nearly 200 hostages freed in the southern city of Zamboanga.

"The threat to Zamboanga is over. The enemy has no organised resistance left," military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Ramon Zagala said.

Police will now take over from troops to clear sections of the vital regional trading centre of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) stragglers, and find a key guerrilla leader who remains unaccounted for, he added.

The military said Nur Misuari, who founded the guerrilla group in the early 1970s, had sent hundreds of armed followers, led by his top lieutenant Habier Malik, to Zamboanga three weeks ago in a bid to derail peace talks with a rival Muslim rebel group.

A total of 183 rebels were killed and 292 others were detained in the fighting.

However neither Misuari nor Malik have been found. The government believes Misuari has gone into hiding in another area of the south.

The fighting claimed the lives of 23 soldiers and policemen, as well as 12 civilians.

The army's announcement came as the United Nations warned that Zamboanga faces a humanitarian crisis, with tens of thousands of people uprooted by the wave of deadly violence.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that 158,000 people have been affected by the violence and more than 10,000 homes have been destroyed.

More than 109,000 people are now displaced in Zamboanga City and nearly 19,000 are displaced in Basilan province.

"We are increasingly alarmed by the situation and the growing needs of people caught up with violence," said the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines, Luiza Carvalho.

"We are particularly concerned for the most vulnerable, especially the well-being of women and children."

She expressed concern over the plight of those displaced, many of whom are struggling to survive.

About 70,000 people are currently staying in the main sports complex in Zamboanga City in overcrowded conditions and with insufficient sanitation facilities, according to the UN.

The OCHA warned there is a real risk of a disease outbreak and an urgent need for food, drinking water, health services, cooking utensils, tents and other necessities.

"We are particularly concerned that aid is delivered in an impartial manner, with the needs of the most vulnerable met and those outside the evacuation centres not forgotten," Ms Carvalho said.

"We expect that all humanitarian workers providing support to the victims of violence are protected and respected, and their safety is ensured by all actors."

She also reiterated the OCHA's commitment to the humanitarian response as well as its support for government efforts to help civilians. - source


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