US backs call for protection of noncombatants in Zambo

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As the sun goes down over the horizon in Zamboanga City, policemen guard the stretch of RT Lim Boulevard to prevent the entry of MNLF reinforcements from the sea. EDWIN BACASMAS

MANILA, Philippines–As civilian casualties in the Zamboanga City conflict mount, the United States has appealed for the protection of those caught in the crossfire, backing the United Nations’ call for safe passage of non-combatants amid the continuing firefight between government troops and the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF).

In a statement late Sunday, US Ambassador to Manila Harry Thomas Jr. echoed the appeal of UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Philippines Luiza Carvalho for the safe passage of civilian hostages and those trapped in conflict-affected barangays in Zamboanga City.

“I join UN Humanitarian Coordinator Luiza Carvalho in calling for a humanitarian corridor to allow the safe passage of civilians who are being held by MNLF insurgents in Zamboanga and those caught in the crossfire between the MNLF and Philippine forces,” said Thomas.

“As Ms Carvalho said, all sides must respect and protect the civilian population and avoid unnecessary suffering by reaching an agreement to end the standoff as quickly as possible,” he said.

Carvalho had made the appeal on Friday as she expressed concern for the emerging humanitarian crisis in Zamboanga City, with thousands of evacuees relying on relief supplies for food, water and other urgent daily needs.

The European Union also shared the concern and called for the immediate and unconditional end to hostilities in Zamboanga City.

The US has provided P27.4 million so far ($623,000) in emergency relief assistance for Zamboanga, an amount used to bring bottles of water, canned goods and other food items, sleeping mats and toiletries in evacuation centers. The US is also providing funding support for the construction of portable toilets.

Thomas again sent America’s condolences to those who had lost loved ones in the already weeklong hostilities as he reaffirmed US support for the Mindanao peace process.

“The United States reiterates its condolences to the families and friends of those killed or wounded in the clashes and continues to hope that the situation be resolved quickly and without further loss of life,” Thomas said.

“We fully support the ongoing peace process in Mindanao and hope the parties will continue to avoid violence as they work toward a final enduring resolution that will benefit all the people of the Philippines,” he said.

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