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The road to recovery for more than 100,000 displaced in Zamboanga will prove a long one

Posted by African Press International on October 4, 2013

MANILA/ZAMBOANGA,  – The road to recovery for more than 100,000 displaced in Zamboanga will prove a long one, aid workers say, following a recent siege by Muslim rebels of the p ort city on the southern island of Mindanao

“Rehabilitation will take a minimum of three months from now – that is the fastest,” Philippine National Red Cross secretary general Gwendolyn Pang told IRIN. “But actually, it may reach six months to a year before we are able to fully rehabilitate those places and move them [the inhabitants] back.”

“This is the devastating reality for the population of Zamboanga. Apart from losing their homes, many have also lost their livelihoods. They will have to rebuild from scratch, and we [aid agencies] will have to prepare to respond for long-term displacement.”

Her comments follow an announcement on 28 September by the Government of the Philippines declaring an end to the security crisis almost three weeks after it began, although sporadic fighting and final clearing operations were still continuing on 1 October.

“Humanitarian Crisis”

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), more than 106,000 people remain displaced on the southern island of Mindanao, after fighting between government forces and armed rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) broke out on 9 September in protest against ongoing peace talks between the Philippine government and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF splinter group.

The two sides are negotiating for the creation of what is envisioned to be an expanded autonomous region for Mindanao’s Muslim population that would supersede the one handed to the MNLF, a development that Nur Misuari, its founder, and a number of fighters oppose.

Of the displaced, 102,401 are housed in 38 evacuation centres, many of them schools, while 3,641 remain with families and friends.

Heavy urban combat had brought the city of nearly a million at a standstill over the past few weeks as more than 4,000 troops tried to crush the rebel force, which abducted dozens of people and used them as human shields. Fighting also spread to the nearly island of Basilan, where MNLF sympathizers attacked government forces to divert the attention of the military.

Over 10 percent of the city’s population was displaced by the fighting, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) reported, while thousands of livelihoods have been shattered.

An estimated 46,000 people’s jobs were lost or disrupted due to the conflict (15,000 workers in the canning industry, 4,800 in the plywood industry, 20,000 fisher folk and 6,000 jobs in the public sector), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported on 1 October.

10,000 homes destroyed

Entire sections of the areas seized by the rebels have been razed, with more than 10,000 homes completely destroyed. This was confirmed by satellite imagery prepared at the request of OCHA to map the humanitarian fallout.

At least 140 people, mostly MNLF rebels, are now confirmed dead in the fighting, the Philippine Army reported, with close to 300 wounded and injured.

The damage is currently estimated at US$4.6 million, but privately officials say the real figure is much higher.

In response, deputy presidential spokeswoman Abigail Valte said operations had already shifted to rehabilitation phase, with work now concentrating on how to provide some semblance of normalcy to those who have lost everything.

“The key challenge will be housing,” Valte said. “Continuing relief is already programmed, but rebuilding the homes that were totally destroyed could take some time.” Philippine President Benigno Aquino had already set aside funds for the building of 10-unit bunkhouses as “transition shelters”, she confirmed.

However, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the prospects for the displaced was “looking very grim”, while the UN has described the situation as a “humanitarian crisis”.

One family’s plight

Carpenter Santos Pareno, 55, a father of three, will be forced to take his family back to the city of Lamitan, a mixed Muslim-Christian community across the Basilan Strait to Basilan Island, where he still has relatives.
“We left Lamitan a long time ago to live a quiet life in Zamboanga, but the war came looking for us,” he said as he and his family huddled under a temporary tent made from discarded tarpaulin at the Jose F Enriquez sports stadium, the biggest of the evacuation centres where, over 70,000 people now live.

“The children will have to go back to school in Lamitan, but our small boat has been destroyed and we don’t have any belongings,” he said. A distant relative in another part of Zamboanga has agreed to take them in temporarily by mid-October. “Until that happens, we will be living on dole-outs. We want to leave this place, but there is nowhere to go.”


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Caught in crossfire

Posted by African Press International on September 14, 2013

Black smoke rises as a cargo plane with relief goods arrives

ZAMBOANGA,  – Authorities in the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga under siege from rogue Muslim rebels opposed to peace talks have ordered the “forced evacuation” of thousands of villagers as negotiations to end the standoff falter.

President Benigno Aquino flew to Zamboanga city on the southern island of Mindanao to personally assess the situation, five days after 100 to 200 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels encroached on six coastal villages, triggering heavy fighting that has left at least 14 combatants and civilians dead and dozens injured.

Up to 180 residents have reportedly been taken hostage and are currently being used as “human shields” to prevent a full-on military assault.

The number of displaced has swollen to more than 16,000 people, currently housed in 13 evacuation centres in the city, including in the main sports complex where many slept on the ground, the Philippines Department of Social Welfare and Development reported, as a momentary lull in violence allowed trapped residents to flee. The International Committee of the Red Cross, UN humanitarian agencies and the US government have rushed aid to the those in need.

“I urge all parties involved to respect and protect the rights of the civilian population, provide special attention to women and children, and avoid unnecessary human suffering by reaching agreement to end the standoff,” Luiza Carvalho, the Humanitarian Coordinator, said on 13 September.

Caught in crossfire

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), an estimated 136,000 people have been affected by the violence. A curfew is in place from 8pm to 5am.

All schools and almost all shops are closed, with only essential government offices open. The government and humanitarian partners have provided food packs, tents and non-food items and a mobile storage unit. An emergency hospital facility was established by the government for the displaced. An unknown number of people also remain trapped in affected coastal villages, unable to reach evacuation centres in the city.

Urgent needs of the evacuees include food, water, tents, bedding, cooking utensils and hygiene kits, the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO) reported.

Thousands have been caught up in the decades-long insurgency

Fighting rages

Hundreds of elite Philippine troops have been closing in on the gunmen, and sporadic clashes punctuated by powerful explosions from rebel mortar fire reverberate for miles around the city.

“Negotiations have been conducted by the Crisis Management Committee for the safe release of hostages and to end the armed conflict between the breakaway MNLF group of Nur Misuari and the government forces,” according to a resolution, passed by the city government and signed by mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, ordering the forced evacuations.

“After a series of negotiations with the breakaway MNLF group of Nur Misuari, the peaceful means to end the hostage crisis and armed conflict failed,” it said.

MNLF forces on nearby Basilan Island, across the sea strait from Zamboanga, also attacked government targets there in a bid to divert military attention. They were backed by two other Muslim militant groups, underscoring the volatility of the southern region, where decades of Islamic insurgency has left many parts vulnerable.

Aquino assured the public that the “overwhelming” presence of troops in Zamboanga would be able to contain the fighting in only the affected villages and that normalcy would resume soon.

“We want to make sure that there is no unnecessary loss of lives,” he said. “Preservation of life is the paramount mission.”

He also hinted that the government wanted to exhaust all peaceful means to end the crisis, even as he said a calibrated military response was in place from day one.

Decades of insecurity

Misuari founded MNLF in the early 1970s to fight for an independent Islamic state in the south, which Muslims consider their ancestral home. The long-running insurgency has led to a proliferation of other armed gangs and a black market of unlicensed guns that contribute to the region’s instability.

Misuari dropped his independence bid and signed a deal with the government in 1996 for the creation of a Muslim autonomous region, where he was subsequently made governor. But Manila later dubbed the region a “failed experiment” and said millions of dollars in development aid had been lost to corruption.

The government is now negotiating with the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), an MNLF splinter group, for the creation of what is envisioned to be an expanded autonomous region that would supersede the one handed to the MNLF, a development that Misuari and a number of still-loyal fighters oppose.

An estimated 150,000 people have died in one of the region’s longest-running insurgencies, which has left the southern mineral-rich island mired in poverty.

aag/ds/rz  source

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