Thousands of people displaced by fighting in southern Philippines
As many as 100,000 flee for their lives with just the clothes on their backs
As many as 100,000 people have been displaced in the southern Philippines port city of Zambonga. Fighting between government forces and hundreds of breakaway Muslim guerrillas has sent many refugees fleeing with little more than the clothes on their backs - and without food and medicine, according to a government report.
Among the injured are 11 Philippine Red Cross workers, who were wounded when heavily armed rebels, belonging to a breakaway faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) stormed into Zamboanga last week.
Most of the displaced people are currently in 35 evacuation centers. Half of them in the city's open-air sports stadium. Another 8,000 are outside the centers. Food, water and medicine are desperately needed, aid agencies said. The International Committee of the Red Cross is working with the Philippine Red Cross to provide aid.
Overcrowding and lack of basic facilities are the most pressing need for these refugees, the United Nations said. This was determined by assessments conducted by non-government organizations in the evacuation centers.
"Many of the displaced are living in makeshift tents in open public areas or sleeping in the open along the sidewalks with inadequate (water and sanitation) facilities," the U.N said. "There are reports of childbirth deliveries in the centers and along the highway, without adequate assistance."
Key public buildings including Zamboanga International Airport, ports, schools, most banks and government offices have been closed.
The MNLF rebels were trying to derail an October deal, aimed at ending 40 years of conflict in the southern Philippines, between the government of the mainly Roman Catholic country, and the main Muslim rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which raised hopes of an economic revival in the impoverished but resource-rich region.
With its reserves of gold, copper, nickel, iron, chromite and manganese, the Mindanao island accounts for about two-fifths of the country's total reserves. The long-running conflict between the government and separatists has killed 120,000 people, displaced two million and stunted economic growth.
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