Aid workers plead: Protect civilians
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Humanitarian workers pleaded for the safety of villagers caught in renewed fighting between soldiers and the terror group Abu Sayyaf in Basilan province as some evacuees claim soldiers have started targeting civilians.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) cited unverified reports that some civilians were wounded in the clashes that started on July 6.
“The security situation in Basilan is precarious,” said Yam Fridez, head of an ICRC delegation in Mindanao.
Fridez said government forces should see to it that the impact of the clashes on civilian communities is minimal.
Some evacuees have claimed that they had become more afraid of soldiers because civilians had been targeted in renewed military offensives against Abu Sayyaf.
One of the evacuees, Birgen Saharin, 26, mother of seven from the town of Ungaya Puyan, said houses were burned by soldiers during the offensive.
“They poured gasoline on the houses and set them on fire to allegedly deprive the Abu Sayyaf of shield,” Saharin said.
But she said civilians, not Abu Sayyaf, are the ones getting hit.
“It’s us. We are affected because we no longer have homes to return to,” she said.
Saharin also reported indiscriminate bombings of villages and indiscriminate firing by soldiers.
Major Filemon Tan, the spokesperson of the Western Mindanao Command, said there has been no validation of Saharin’s claims, however.
“So far, we don’t have reports about it,” Tan said.
He said government soldiers are trying to penetrate Abu Sayyaf hideouts in Basilan.
The military said at least 35 terrorists and a soldier had been killed since the offensive started on July 6. The military operations continue.
ICRC’s Fridez urged the military to spare civilian communities from attacks.
The combat operations have displaced thousands of villagers in the towns of Tipo-tipo, Albarka and Ungkaya Pukan.
As of Friday, ICRC said at least 17,000 residents of the three towns had been displaced.
ICRC said it has extended help to the residents, together with the Philippine Red Cross. It said it gave out hygiene kits, blankets, towels, jerry cans, mosquito nets and sleeping mats to evacuees.
The humanitarian group also distributed medical supplies, including medicines and anti-tetanus vaccines.
Saharin, however, said food is the immediate need of evacuees.
She said the second installment of relief good distribution consisted of packages that each contained 5 kilograms of rice, a few cans of sardines, sugar and coffee. The package, however, barely lasted two days for Saharin’s family.
“We are pushed to the wall,” she said. “We gather and cook whatever edible things we see around so we will not go hungry,” she added.
Children, Saharin said, have skipped classes for weeks already.
Darussalam Ladjid, mayor of Al Barka town, said he could not afford to feed his constituents.
He said the town’s internal revenue allotment has not arrived until now. “We just rely on help from the provincial government,” he said.
Jomar Maturan, mayor of Ungkaya Pukan town, said his town is suffering from the same situation. Julie Alipala and Ryan Rosauro, Inquirer Mindanao
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