Thousands displaced in Philippine fighting
COTABATO, Philippines: The United Nations said Thursday deadly clashes between soldiers and a Muslim rebel group in the violence-plagued southern Philippines had displaced up to 45,000 people. Arjun Jain, head of the UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees office in the southern Philippines, said nearly half of the displaced were living in poor conditions in makeshift evacuation camps such as schools and madrassas.
“The evacuation sites are crammed and sometimes eight to 10 families are forced to share one room,” Jain said.
He said there were also concerns about safety, referring to reports that rebels had infiltrated the evacuation camps disguised as refugees.
“If the communities will be forced to remain in the camps any longer, we fear that the situation will become even worse for them,” he said.
Members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) attacked several army detachments in the southern province of Maguindanao last week, triggering gunbattles that left at least five soldiers dead. The rebels occupied a major highway and sabotaged power lines, before the military forced them back and overran their mountain lair.
|Sounds a bit like northern Nigeria. Wonder what the connection is...|
Sporadic fighting has continued and aid groups have had trouble getting access into affected areas, officials said.
The BIFF is made up of a few hundred fighters who broke away from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a 12,000-strong group that has struggled for decades for an independent homeland for the country’s Muslim minority. The insurgency has left about 150,000 dead since it began in the early 1970s.
The MILF is now in peace talks and has said it is willing to accept an autonomous homeland in the south that remains part of the Philippines.
The government said last week’s attacks were carried out to derail the peace talks.
The BIFF’s leader, Ameril Umbrakato, is hard-liner who led attacks against mostly Christian towns in the south in 2008, leading to the deaths of more than 400 people and displacing 750,000 others. That attack came after the Supreme Court rejected a proposed deal that would have given the MILF control over large areas in the south they claim as their “ancestral domain.”
Posted by: Steve White