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COTABATO CITY – Some 2,500 people who were displaced by recent fighting between military forces and pro-ISIS militants in Lanao del Sur province in southern Philippines have failed to return home due to security concerns, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said.

It said most of those affected by war were staying in Pagayawan town. “These families have been unable to return home due to security concerns,” said Meher Khatcherian, who heads the ICRC office covering this area.

Khatcherian said the ICRC, with the support of the Philippine Red Cross, have already distributed food to the displaced villagers. “Though various government agencies, we have distributed food among the displaced population, there is a need to extend more help. Our aim is to augment the initial support,” he said, adding, the food aid provided to about 500 families is good for two weeks.

He said each family received 25 kilos of rice, one liter of cooking oil, one kilo of sugar, one-half kilo of salt, one liter of soy sauce, 12 cans of sardines, as well as two sleeping mats, a pair of blankets, two mosquito nets, kitchen utensils and hygiene items.

The fighting started in June 17 and affected at least 16 villages in Pagayawan and also in Tubaran where troops clashed with members of the Islamic State-Ranao.

Khatcherian said more than 14,000 people were initially displaced by the battle. While families displaced from Tubaran returned home days after the fighting ended, those from Pagayawan continue to stay with relatives or in evacuation centers.

After the clashes ended, Khatcherian said an ICRC team assessed the humanitarian situation, including the need to strengthen the protection accorded to civilians by international humanitarian law.

“In accordance with our mandate, the ICRC reminds all parties to the conflict to protect civilians, sick and wounded people, and detainees, and to fulfil their obligation to respect international humanitarian law,” he said.

Aside from food aid, the Khatcherian said the ICRC also donated emergency medical supplies to the Pagayawan rural health unit, which serves 14,500 residents. “These items will benefit 1,000 people over the next three months. Just two weeks ago, medicines and medical materials were donated to the Unayan District Hospital in Binidayan town, which provides services to five Lanao del Sur towns, including Pagayawan,” he said.

Sporadic clashes still continue in Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato and Maguindanao with the military claiming to have killed dozens of militants from the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, whose leaders also pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. (Mindanao Examiner)


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