MANILA, Philippines?(UPDATE) UN agencies have suspended all aid missions to the southern Philippines due to safety concerns after a series of bombings that left about a dozen dead and 100 injured, officials said Wednesday.
"UN security has directed that all missions in Mindanao are cancelled until further notice and all staff movements are restricted," a spokeswoman with the UN's food agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), told Agence France-Presse.
The decision puts the food supply of more than 340,000 people huddled in Mindanao evacuation camps after a spate of violence on the large island since August in question.
?We foresee a delay in this month?s food distribution scheduled to start next week,? WFP's deputy country director Alghassim Wurie told INQUIRER.net in a phone interview.
The WFP had been scheduled to deliver rice next week to the Mindanaoans displaced by hostilities between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Wurie said that as the UN agency finished distributing food last Saturday, the validation of the operations was set this week.
But he maintained that the food agency was committed to helping war refugees in the south in the long term.
"We hope this will only be temporary," Wurie told Agence France-Presse. "We just decided to suspend our movements to evaluate what is happening in Mindanao."
?We will resume the food distribution when the situation has calmed down,? he said.
The WFP has the biggest number of aid workers in Mindanao. Wurie said a total of 63 WFP staffers would be affected by the travel ban to Mindanao, six of whom are foreigners and the rest are Filipinos.
The military and police have declared a heightened state of alert in the entire south after the deadly bombings in the city of Cotabato on Sunday and on the island of Jolo and the city of Iligan on Tuesday.
Authorities have blamed the Cotabato and Iligan bombings on the MILF and the Jolo explosion on the Abu Sayyaf, an Al-Qaeda-linked group.
Jolo's head of police, Chief Inspector Usman Salipingay, said the explosion in front of a store on the island could be related to the Abu Sayyaf's kidnapping of an Italian Red Cross worker who has been held since January.
"Our (incident) in Jolo has a different story" because of the kidnapping of aid worker Eugenio Vagni, he said.
"It is the character of the Abu Sayyaf to seek publicity" and try to divert government forces away from their pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen holding Vagni, he added.
Police in Manila were also placed on full alert Wednesday, amid fears the extremists could carry out attacks in the city. About 15,000 officers were deployed in public places and to secure key installations, including churches.
The Abu Sayyaf has been linked by intelligence agencies to the Al-Qaeda network and has been blamed for the worst terror attacks in the Philippines including bombings and kidnappings of foreigners and Christians.
They seized Vagni and two other Red Cross workers in Jolo in January although the two others were released separately in April.
Officials say the latest attacks appear to have been well coordinated and planned with the help of foreign militants. Police are checking whether all three attacks might be related. With Veronica Uy, INQUIRER.net