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Philippines: ICRC and Philippine National Red Cross remain concernedabout plight of Sulu civilians

21-06-2005 News Release 05/56

“People are genuinely grateful to know the Red Cross remains interested in their fate,” said Jean-Luc Joliat, head of the ICRC sub-delegation in Davao City, mid-way through a three-day visit to the island of Sulu in the Philippines' Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao which terminated on 18 June.

The visit by Joliat and three Filipino field officers came some four months after a series of intense clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and dissident groups. Its purpose was to support the local branch of the Philippine National Red Cross in its response to the situation on the ground. Owing to the security situation, ICRC visits to Sulu have not been easy to organize. This most recent visit follows a one-day exploratory trip undertaken by the head of the ICRC delegation in the Philippines on 9 March.

The joint ICRC-Philippine National Red Cross team was well received by local authorities who were anxious to impress upon the visitors that normalcy had returned to the island. The ICRC and National Society representatives took part in a series of meetings with local community and religious leaders and with representatives of women’s organizations in order to inform themselves about any need for protection or assistance that might exist.

The ICRC’s first priority was to assess the situation of the approximately 30,000 people displaced at the outset of the fighting. In places where the displaced had previously taken refuge the team observed that the vast majority had returned to their homes.

The ICRC has taken a keen interest in developments in Sulu ever since the renewed outbreak of hostilities, and remains concerned about the situation there. On 21 February the organization issued a statement reminding all parties involved in military hostilities of their obligation to obey the rules of international humanitarian law.

On 17 June the ICRC delivered to the local provincial hospital medical dressings and other supplies for treat ing conflict-related injuries and seasonal diseases such as dengue fever. In accordance with its humanitarian mandate, the ICRC team also visited the military hospital and the provincial prison to assess basic conditions in each facility. It distributed soap and hygiene items for the prisoners as well as vitamin supplements provided by the National Society.

“The role of independent humanitarian action is critical in Sulu,” said Jean-Luc Joliat. “The local people have seen conflict in the past. In the absence of any local monitoring body, they are resigned to what they believe is an uncertain future. That is why the permanent presence of the Philippine National Red Cross on the island is vitally important.”

 For further information, please contact:  

 Michael Rudiak, ICRC Manila, tel. ++63 2 892 8901 / 0918 907 2125