BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Some 100,000 people have been displaced in the southern Philippines port city of Zamboanga by more than a week of fighting between government forces and hundreds of breakaway Muslim guerrillas, according to the latest government report.
At least 97 people have been killed and 183, including 11 Philippine Red Cross workers, wounded since heavily armed rebels belonging to a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) on Sept. 9 stormed into Zamboanga, where government troops are trying to push them back.
The majority of the displaced are in 35 evacuation centres – half of them in the city’s open-air sports stadium - and around 8,000 are outside the centres. Having fled with few or no belongings, they are in urgent need of food and other items as well as water and medicine, aid agencies said. The International Committee of the Red Cross is working with the Philippine Red Cross to provide aid.
Initial rapid needs assessments conducted by non-government organisations in the evacuation centres found overcrowding and lack of basic facilities there, the United Nations said.
“Many of the displaced are living in makeshift tents in open public areas or sleeping in the open along the sidewalks with inadequate (water and sanitation) facilities,” the U.N said. “There are reports of childbirth deliveries in the centres and along the highway, without adequate assistance.”
Key public buildings including Zamboanga International Airport, ports, schools, most banks and government offices remain closed.
The MNLF rebels were trying to derail an October deal, aimed at ending 40 years of conflict in the southern Philippines, between the government of the mainly Roman Catholic country, and the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which raised hopes of an economic revival in the impoverished but resource-rich region.
The Mindanao island group has reserves of gold, copper, nickel, iron, chromite and manganese, which account for about two-fifths of the country’s total reserves, but the long-running conflict between the government and separatists has killed 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted economic growth.