08/23/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Chaos descends upon Mindanao as 220,000 are displaced and fear of civil war grows

by Santosh Digal
The failure to achieve an agreement between the MILP and the government has increased tensions in the southern province. According to a UN agency there are hundreds of thousands of refugees. There is the danger that another bloody conflict might break out. The Church begins to provide assistance to the civilian population.
Manila (AsiaNews) – More than 220,000 people are now displaced after weeks of escalating violence in Mindanao, southern Philippines, between the army and rebels from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) reported.

The WFP said it has provided 900 metric tonnes of food for displaced families left without shelter and unable to feed themselves in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan. Some 10,000 newly displaced families (about 60,000 persons) will get 250 metric tonnes of rice worth U$ 207,000.

The UN agency added that more and more families abandon their homes “due to the growing insecurity”. Since 11 August it has provided some 650 metric tons of rice to 160,000 displaced families from Lanao Del Sur, Lanao Del Norte, and North Cotabato

“We hope for peace and stability as the number of vulnerable victims of these clashes continues to rise. The WFP is providing life-saving food support to meet urgent needs, but it also hopes that the humanitarian situation will stabilise soon,” said Stephen Anderson, WFP Philippines Country Director and Representative.

The country’s Catholic Church is also mobilising to help the needy. The Jesuits in the Philippines have started a fund raising drive to help affected civilians in the Mindanao strife, but they are also calling on the parties to restart peace talks so that the Memorandum of Agreement can be signed.

Sadly “violence and hatred continue to take their toll on the lives of innocent civilians, Muslims, Lumads and Christians alike,” said Chan-Gonzaga, SJ, executive director of the Jesuit Social Service Center.

The archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro together with the dioceses of Iligan and Marawi has called for aid, especially for towns in Lanao where residents have been attacked and houses burned.

Funds raised will go to Cagayan de Oro archdiocese and will be distributed under the care of Archbishop Antonio Ledesma, SJ, and Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan).

The recent development has reinforced old prejudices across the country that the MILF cannot be trusted to keep its word or reach a peace deal to end the violence.

The rebels have re-opened old wounds, especially among the Christians, the most affected group by the Islamic rebels’ logic of war and massacres, said Fr Amado Picardal, CSsR, dean of Redemptorist St. Alphonsus Major Seminary, Davao.

“A lot of atrocities have been committed. [. . .] There were two bombings in my hometown of Iligan City. [. . .] There was panic in the city. [There is] fear that the area will soon be attacked” by Islamic rebels, he said.

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