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Aid groups stretched to help 120,000 displaced in southern Philippines

Makeshift training rifles

Military action: Makeshift training rifles of Islamist militants were recovered inside the Abu Sayyaf Camp Allmujahiden in Sulu, Philippines, on April 28, last year. Catholic aid agencies are assisting thousands of people displaced by military operations in southern Philippines.
Photo: CNS/Western Mindanao Command, EPA

CATHOLIC relief workers and religious communities are aiding thousands of people displaced by military manoeuvres designed to root out a Muslim rebel faction on Mindanao.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said on March 20 that more than 120,000 residents fled their homes in towns throughout Maguindanao province on the island in the Muslim-majority southern Philippines. The commission said a humanitarian crisis was looming as the number of displaced people was expected to grow.

“We visited and interviewed families who were just right there, under the trees,” said Sr Alejandra Villarosa, a member of the Oblates of Notre Dame based in Cotabato City, Philippines. “They had no basic necessities. … They are innocent victims. Their neighbourhood associations just told them to vacate their homes because of the military operations against the BIFF (Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters).”

Since late January, the Armed Forces of the Philippines has stepped up its campaign against the rebels that authorities believe are harbouring internationally wanted terrorists. The military campaign slowed for three days during the week of March 23 to allow about 16,000 students to attend graduation ceremonies, but residents remained away from their homes.


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