ICRC: Evacuees need help
ZAMBOANGA CITY—Residents displaced by military offensives against the Abu Sayyaf in two towns of Basilan province need food and other provisions after they left their communities and their sources of livelihood as clashes ensued between government troops and the armed group, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.
ICRC said about 7,000 residents of Al-Barka and Tuburan towns went to evacuation centers or to their relatives’ homes when military operations started against the Abu Sayyaf, a group operating in Basilan and Sulu provinces known for its kidnap-for-ransom activities. The group has been holding at least 23 foreign and Filipino hostages, military reports said.
Nezar Tamine, deputy head of the ICRC subdelegation in Mindanao, said the aid group has delivered food aid and other basic needs to evacuees from six villages in the two towns.
Tamine said each family received 25 kilograms of rice, two liters of cooking oil, a kilogram of sugar, half a kilogram of salt, 12 tins of sardines, a liter of soy sauce and a hygiene kit containing shampoo, bath and laundry soaps, toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste.
Military operations against the Abu Sayyaf in Basilan have always disrupted communities.
In July, residents of Al-Barka, along with residents of Tuburan, Tipo-Tipo and Ungkaya Pukan towns, fled due to clashes between soldiers and bandits. The ICRC, through the Philippine Red Cross, also provided essential household items and hygiene kits to some 17,000 displaced people during that month.
Col. Cirilo Tomas Donato, commander of the Army’s 104th Infantry Brigade and head of the Joint Task Group Basilan, said sporadic clashes occurred in November in Al-Barka and Tuburan. Three soldiers were wounded in the fighting.
Donato said no clash had been reported between government troops and the bandits this month.
But even then, the ICRC said fear of getting caught in the crossfire has prevented displaced residents from returning to their villages as the military continues to conduct operations in Al-Barka and Tuburan.
In Zamboanga City, Maj. Filemon Tan Jr., spokesperson of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said the fate of the 23 remaining hostages in the hands of Abu Sayyaf bandits remains uncertain even as the military continues rescue operations.
Tan said the hostages—18 foreigners and five Filipinos—were being held in Sulu province.
Among these hostages are seven Malaysians, six Vietnamese, two Indonesians, a Korean, a German and a Dutch. A 9-year-old child is among the Filipino hostages, Tan said.
“Our troops on the ground are relentless in pursuing them (Abu Sayyaf) … The operation continues because we cannot lower our guards,” he said.
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