10,000 can’t go home yet in Al-Barka
Some 2,000 families displaced by a military pursuit of Moro rebels that began almost a month ago in Al-Barka town in Basilan may have to stay longer in evacuation centers or with their relatives or friends.
Al-Barka Mayor Muhammad Abdurahman Kabukisan said he had prevented the evacuees from returning home “because there was no order for me to allow them to go home.” Neither is there a go-signal from the Army’s 104th Brigade, he said.
Kabukisan feared that the residents might be in harm’s way should he allow them to go home and “suddenly there’s an encounter.” He said he would be responsible “if my people are caught in the crossfire.”
Nineteen soldiers on a mission to arrest those behind the 2007 ambush of government troops in Basilan were killed by Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) forces in Al-Barka on October 18. The MILF, which is negotiating for peace with the government, said the soldiers had not coordinated their entry into MILF territory with the rebels.
Military officials ordered OV-10 planes to conduct bombing sorties in known MILF camps in Al-Barka, as well as in Patikul town in Sulu, and in Payao town in Zamboanga Sibugay.
According to the Integrated Resource Development for Tri-People, a total of 1,981 families or 9,481 people have been displaced after the October 18 fighting between government and MILF forces. More than 200 families are still housed in Al-Barka’s town center while more than 1,000 families are with relatives and friends in nearby towns and villages.
Kabukisan said food was not a problem “because some groups are coming up here bringing food supplies and medicines.”
“In case there’s no more food available, our people are taking their chances on returning to their farms, harvesting whatever they can,” the mayor said.
But he said the children’s health conditions continue to worsen despite visits made by health workers. “Some children are coughing profusely, others complain of stomach pain, some are suffering from loose bowel movement. We need medicines for the children,” he said.
Three elderly evacuees have already died, Kabukisan said. “They had heart disease and it worsened when they were not brought immediately to the hospital. Besides, these people were old and they didn’t have money for medication,” he said.
Hadji Abdulla Iklaman, 70, Hadji Husin Otong, 73, and Hadja Rapia Yusoph, 60, died from “postwar trauma,” according to Allan Pisingan, provincial chair of the Bantay Ceasefire and secretary of the Kapatutan Bahran (Human Rights Basilan).
Three others suffered shrapnel wounds during military bomb runs in Barangay Cambug, Pisingan said.
The MILF has acknowledged that its forces were behind the 2007 ambush that resulted in the deaths of 23 soldiers, but it denied their beheading and mutilation.
A fact-finding team, which included a government representative, reported that the beheading and mutilation were done by suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits after the rebels had left the area. It recommended that the cases filed against MILF forces be reviewed.
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