Philippines faces humanitarian crisis in ongoing Zamboanga conflict
MANILA — The Philippines has found itself with a refugee crisis Friday as more than 100,000 people have fled battles between soldiers and Muslim rebels as the conflict in the southern city of Zamboanga entered its 19th day.
"This has become a humanitarian crisis," Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman stated, saying people were being housed in cramped evacuation centers or in fragile tents erected outdoors.
International aid has come in but the supplies of food, cooking utensils and sanitary facilities were not enough, she said.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report that 111,940 have been evacuated and more than 10,000 houses destroyed in the clashes between the army and rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in the Zamboanga City area.
OCHA also said that on Grande Santa Cruz island, located just south of conflict area, an estimated 100 people are trapped as a result of a naval blockade, and the Philippine Red Cross is currently negotiating access to the island.
Despite the privations, the city port came back to life Friday as it partially reopened for passenger vessels. It had been closed since the start of the siege, a bid by MNLF rebels gain independence.
Classes resumed at most schools on Wednesday, and in some parts of the city, local businesses have reopened for business though they have reduced hours of availability, local officials said.
Military spokesman, Lt Colonel Ramon Zagala said more than 200 rebels surrendered or captured, and 166 were killed while 18 government soldiers and 12 civilians have died.
The military is reassessing the remaining number of rebels.