Davao Today

Zamboanga City– Aerial bombs launched by government troops against Muslim rebels and more fires in Barangay Santa Catalina Monday worried displaced residents who said relatives and neighbors were trapped there.

Wala na bang sibilyan dyan? (Are there civilians there?)” asked a Bapa (Muslim elder) from Sta. Barbara who just joined a sambayan (Muslim prayer) with 30 other Muslims in a prayer tent at the Enriquez Sports Complex.

Another evacuee, Dayana Patta of Sta. Catalina, said she panicked when she learned that her sister Christy remained trapped in the village where the aerial bombs were launched.

Dayan was relieved to find Christy as among the civilians who were released by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the course of the attacks. Christy was brought to the regional police Camp Batalla for “processing.”

The aerial attack by the military was part of its “gradual constriction” against the MNLF hiding in Santa Catalina.
Military spokesperson Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala said the tactic will put pressure on the MNLF forces and “create an opportunity” for civilians trapped in the barangays to escape or for the rebels themselves to release them.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who is part of the city’s crisis committee, said they rescued 117 civilians trapped in these barangays in the past two days.

He appealed to the families that authorities had to “process” the rescued civilians first before they are released to their relatives. He also assured that the rescued civilians will be provided food and shelter.

Zagala said government troops have recovered 70% of Sta. Catalina from the MNLF, who are now hiding in a building.
But the AFP spokesperson said they are now containing “pockets” of MNLF troops that had spread to other villages.

Establishments started to resume their business such as sari-sari stores, banks and food stores but had to close earlier due to the imposed curfew. Local malls remained close.

As fighting continued on its second week, government’s peace adviser Teresita Deles announced that their efforts to ask Indonesia and other members of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) to help resolve the Zamboanga conflict failed to generate response.

“We relayed to Indonesia last Tuesday and to the entire OIC peace committee last Thursday our request if they could help in any way in resolving the situation. None of the eight countries present offered a proposal,” Deles said.

Indonesia is host to the ongoing talks of the GPH-MNLF review of their Final Peace Agreement which was set to meet earlier this week in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Deles said the only communication Indonesia had with Misuari was the postponement of the meeting.

For her part, Secretary Luwalhati R. Antonino , Chairperson of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) said in a statement that the government’s calibrated military action against MNLF rebels “puts utmost premium on ensuring the safety of innocent civilians.”

She added that “crisis must end in order to prevent further loss of innocent lives and avert more damaging ramifications to the region’s economy.”

Earlier, the international human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch urged the Philippine government to “take all necessary measures to reduce the risk to civilians while conducting military operations against Muslim rebels.”

“Civilians who fled their homes without proper documents are still civilians and must be treated that way,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch said. “Even though this is a very complicated situation, the military and the police cannot take shortcuts by jeopardizing the rights of the civilian population..” (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday,com)

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