Humanitarian crisis looms in Sulu, Basilan
ZAMBOANGA CITY—The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it has been receiving reports of humanitarian concerns in Sulu and Basilan provinces as a result of clashes between government troops and bandits, but it must carefully assess the situation before it sends teams there due to a violent experience in the past.
Wolde-Gabriel Saugeron, deputy head of delegation for prevention and communication of ICRC, cited the January 2009 kidnapping of ICRC workers Andreas Notter, Eugenio Vagni and Mary Jane Lacaba in Sulu.
“The kidnapping of 2009 was quite a trauma for the organization,” Saugeron said in a recent visit here.
He said the humanitarian concerns, due to conflicts in the two provinces, were being assessed by ICRC because “there are needs of the civilian population.”
The military has launched massive operations in Basilan and Sulu to stamp out Abu Sayyaf bandits.
Journalists based in these provinces reported there had been families displaced by the fighting and they hardly received aid. They said residents in Barangay Danag in Patikul town, for example, were ordered to vacate their homes to give way to military operations there.
Haroun Al-Rashid Lucman Jr., regional vice governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and who acts as regional social welfare secretary, said five towns in Sulu were affected by the operation. He said their monitoring showed that 19,763 people or 3,985 families had been displaced in the province.
In Basilan, where operations covered four towns, he said 1,729 families were affected by the fighting.
“Definitely, we are now assessing the situation and also reaching out to all stakeholders so we can have a dialogue with everyone and be granted enough security guarantee to work in Sulu and Basilan,” Saugeron said.
He said working in the two provinces “is definitely one of our priorities now.”
Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the operations in Sulu and Basilan were continuing and that casualties from both sides were being reported.
The ongoing offensives against the Abu Sayyaf make humanitarian intervention a bit difficult, Saugeron said.
But he said ICRC was trying its best to deliver aid to displaced residents of Sulu and Basilan through its local partners.
“We are not directly going there [at this time] but it doesn’t mean that we are inactive. We can work through other partners,” Saugeron said.
Lucman said the regional government had provided an initial assistance of about 12,000 food packs, worth P5.3 million, to families displaced by clashes in these provinces.
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