11/20/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Mindanao, more than 46,000 displaced in war between army and MILF

by Santosh Digal
According to the Philippine National Red Cross, 11,734 families have had to abandon their homes and property, destroyed in fighting between the army and rebels of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The displaced are being welcomed in refugee camps, while reconstruction work begins. In Jolo, a bishops-ulemas summit despite threats from Abu Sayyaf.

Manila (AsiaNews) - Clashing in recent weeks in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, has left more than 46,000 displaced. This is affirmed in a report by the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) released on November 18, according to which 46,350 people - belonging to 11,734 nuclear families spread over nine provinces - have had to abandon their homes and property because of the war between the government army and troops of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Red Cross has set up 20 welcome centers in the areas of Cotabato, Lanao del Norte, Iligan City, General Santos City, Basilan, Sulu, Misamis Occidental, Sultan Kudarat, and Bukidnon, providing food and essential household items. Humanitarian intervention is being made more difficult by the constant fighting between the two sides: the PNRC reports that four artillery shells fell in Kalilangan square in Bukidnon; in Cotabato, 30 homes have been razed to the ground and burned during the combat. In Kalamansing, in Sultan Kudarat, 1,230 families have had to flee because of the violence.

Small signs of hope are coming from Mindanao; the Red Cross has begun reconstruction of some of the destroyed homes, 12 of which have already been completed in the municipality of Kolambugan; in Kauswagan, 7 out of 12 planned residences for refugees have been completed. Hopes are also being raised by the first summit of the bishops-ulemas conference in Jolo - in the province of Sulu - scheduled for November 18-21, despite the repeated threats of abduction issued by Abu Sayyaf, a terrorist group connected to al Qaeda. 85 delegates are participating at the bishops-ulemas summit, presided over by Fernando Capalla, the archbishop of Davao, by bishop emeritus Hilario Gomez, and by the president of the Ulama League of the Philippines, Aleem Aboali Cali.

The apostolic vicar of Jolo, Angelito Lampon, a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, says the meeting is "historic" because "for the first time it will happen in Jolo," and is a strong message to the population in the direction of peace and harmony between the faithful of the two religions. The speakers will include former congressman Rey Magno Teves, who will address the social problems in the region, the causes at the basis of the conflict in Mindanao, and the possible paths to be taken in order to arrive at stable and lasting peace.

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