The Philippines yesterday urged its citizens to send more aid for 100,000 people who had fled heavy fighting between troops and Muslim rebels in the country’s south, calling their plight a “humanitarian crisis.”
The conflict has claimed more than 100 lives since hundreds of rebels from the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) entered the key trading center of Zamboanga in a bid to derail peace talks with a rival group.
While many of the insurgents have surrendered and most of the dozens of hostages they took have been freed, attention has turned to conditions faced by 118,000 refugees displaced by the fighting.
“This has become a humanitarian crisis,” Philippine Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman said.
She said those displaced were staying in 57 evacuation centers, including the city’s main sports complex where more than 70,000 people jostled for space and erected tents and shelters fashioned from scavenged materials.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report there was insufficient supply of tents, cooking utensils and health and sanitation facilities.
MNLF rebels entered Zamboanga, a major trading center with 1 million residents, on Sept. 9, taking over several coastal villages, burning thousands of homes and taking dozens of civilians hostage.
As of yesterday, the military said 102 MNLF rebels and 13 policemen and soldiers had been killed, while more than 100 gunmen were captured or surrendered.
At least 12 civilians had been killed, including a 71-year-old woman whose home was hit by rebel mortar fire on yesterday morning.
Police were also investigating whether a bombing far from the frontlines that killed three people late on Friday was linked to the siege.
Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ramon Zagala said yesterday that only about 30 to 40 remaining gunmen holding about 21 hostages were engaged in sporadic fighting with troops.
Muslim rebels have been fighting since the 1970s for an independent or autonomous homeland in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines. An estimated 150,000 people have died in the conflict.
The MNLF signed a peace treaty in 1996 that granted limited self-rule to the south’s Muslim minority.
However MNLF founder Nur Misuari deployed some of his men to Zamboanga to show opposition to a planned peace deal between the government and the remaining major Muslim rebel group, the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front.