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Philippines: Red Cross escorts civilians out of combat zone on Mindanao

22-08-2008 News Release 08/157

Geneva/Manila (ICRC) – As clashes continue between the armed forces and fighters of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern Philippines, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), supported by the Philippine National Red Cross, has escorted around 900 trapped civilians out of a combat zone to a safer area on Mindanao.

  ©ICRC/R. Tolentino/R. Tomas    
  Registering displaced people in Pikit municipality in North Cotabato province    
  ©ICRC/R. Tolentino/R. Tomas    
  Water points and emergency sanitation facilities are installed at the transition centres, Pikit town, North Cotabato province.    
  ©ICRC/R. Tolentino/R. Tomas    
  Assistance being distributed to the displaced in Pikit municipality in North Cotabato province    

The civilians had been caught in the middle of fighting near Datu Piang, in Maguindanao province. ICRC delegates accompanied them to a nearby evacuation centre where they will stay for the time being. " Thanks to our longstanding presence in the Philippines and the trust gained among all those involved in the conflict, both the armed forces and the MILF agreed quickly to let us evacuate the villagers " , said Felipe Donoso, head of the ICRC's delegation in the Philippines.

Over the past three days, fighting has occurred in several municipalities in the provinces of Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan. The government estimates that some 60,000 people have been forced to flee their homes by the hostilities. More military operations are also continuing in Cotabato province.

During the past week, the ICRC and the Philippine Red Cross have been providing food for around 40,000 displaced people in Cotabato and Lanao del Norte provinces and clean drinking water for over 12,500 victims. Emergency sanitation facilities are being set up at the sites where displaced people have gathered. Emergency household items and hygiene kits have so far been distributed to about 11,000 people.

The ICRC and the Philippine Red Cross are prepared to aid more displaced persons being housed in evacuation centres, and ICRC staff are assessing needs at the hospitals in the cities of Iligan and General Santos and around Cotabato province. " We want to reach other affected areas as soon as possible, " said Donoso. " So we're seeking the necessary security clearance from both sides. "

The ICRC reminds the parties to the fighting of their obligat ion to comply with international humanitarian law. In particular, they must take every measure possible to spare civilians the effects of the hostilities and must allow deliveries of emergency relief and medical supplies for people in need.

For further information, please contact:
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel: +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 217 32 24
  Roland Bigler, ICRC Manila, tel: +63 2892 8901 or +63 918 907 2125