International community worried about situation in Zamboanga

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03:18 PM September 14th, 2013

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By: Tarra Quismundo, September 14th, 2013 03:18 PM

Luiza Carvalho AFP FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—The international community has expressed concern about the continuing conflict between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas  in Zamboanga City, noting the emerging humanitarian crisis as the number of displaced people and civilian casualties mount.

The United Nations and the European Union have called for an immediate end to hostilities between government troops and the MNLF fighters in a crisis that has dragged on for a week now, forcing thousands of residents out of their homes.

Luiza Carvalho, the UN’s humanitarian affairs coordinator in the Philippines, appealed for “the safe passage of civilians caught in the crossfire” as fighting continued in Zamboanga.

“I urge all parties involved to respect and protect the rights of the civilian population, provide special attention to women and children and avoid unnecessary human suffering by reaching agreement to end the standoff,” Carvalho said in a statement released by the UN late Friday.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimated that at least 16,000 have been forced to evacuate from conflict-stricken barangays while a total of 136,000 people were affected by the violence.

The world body said it was prepared to help the Philippine government in bringing relief goods to affected residents. The United States earlier provided P26.4 million in aid to provide for water, shelter, sanitation and personal hygiene needs of evacuees.

The European Union’s delegation in Manila also condemned the conflict, noting its impact on civilians, especially women and children.

“We strongly condemn any violation of the international law and human rights of the civilian population in Zamboanga, especially those of women and children. We sympathize with the wounded and hurt, and offer our condolences to the families of the victims of this violence,” the EU said in a statement.

The European bloc called for the “unconditional and immediate ending” of hostilities, the release of civilians still held hostage by the gunmen,  and the safe access of humanitarian groups to those affected.

“We further urge that all parties recommit irrevocably and exclusively to the political process and ongoing negotiations to ensure a lasting, just and peaceful settlement in Mindanao,” the EU statement said.

The EU, a member of the International Monitoring Team observing the Mindanao peace process, praised the Philippine government for efforts to end the conflict.

“The EU Delegation commends President Aquino for his firm commitment to achieve peace in Mindanao through an inclusive peace settlement, which is within reach and would be beneficial for all Bangsamoros,” the statement said.

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