News & Current Affairs

August 14, 2008

Philippine displaced begin return

Philippine displaced begin return

A family sit at an evacuation centre in Pikit town on 13 August 2008

Tens of thousands of families were forced to leave their homes

Troops defused a bomb at a bus station in the southern Philippines, as people displaced by fighting between troops and Muslim rebels began to return home.

About 160,000 villagers fled violence which began in early August, after a deal expanding a Muslim autonomous zone was blocked.

Separatist rebels then occupied several villages in North Cotabato province, triggering a military assault.

Operations ended a day ago, and troops are encouraging families to return.

“We expect a considerable number of people to return home today. Since late Wednesday they were slowly going back, we are assuring them of their safety,” an army spokesman, Lt-Col Julieto Ando, was quoted as saying.

But many people still feared for the lives and were reluctant to return, aid agencies said.

Early on Thursday, security personnel defused a bomb planted at a bus station at Kidapawan town in the center of the province.

A military spokesman said it was probably a retaliatory measure by the retreating rebels.

‘Tainted relationship’

A boy salvages belongings from the ashes of his home in Takepan, North Cotabato province, on Tuesday, after it was razed by retreating rebels

The violence began when a deal that would have expanded an existing Muslim autonomous zone in the south fell apart.

The agreement had angered many Christian communities, who appealed to the Supreme Court to block it pending further hearings.

Several hundred guerrillas from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) then occupied 15 villages in North Cotabato – next to the autonomous zone.

The action triggered military air strikes and artillery assaults. At least two soldiers and more than two dozen rebels were killed.

Some of the tens of thousands of families who fled the fighting are now beginning to make their way back.

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“The security situation has improved but it will probably take a bit of time before people feel secure enough to return home en masse,” Stephen Anderson, country director for the World Food Programme (WFP), told Reuters news agency.

“We have to be looking ahead to people having to potentially rebuild their lives – a lot of houses, villages have been destroyed.”

One local resident, whose house was looted, told the French news agency AFP that ties between Muslim and Christian communities would have to be rebuilt.

“The relationship has been tainted but our brother Muslims agreed we can rebuild it for the sake of our children.”

MILF rebels have been fighting for greater autonomy in the southern Philippines for almost four decades.

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