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Probe abuses in Zambo fighting

By ALI MACABALANG

A New York-based rights group has called on the administration of President Aquino to investigate alleged abuses committed by government forces and elements of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and alleged discrimination in relief operations for displaced residents.

“When the smoke finally clears in Zamboanga, the government will need to investigate what happened, including holding accountable members of the military and police who committed abuses,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a report posted by the Catholic-ran Ucan News.

The New York-based rights group claimed both MNLF combatants and government forces share the blame.

It accused rebels of using Christian hostages as human shields in areas, which the military and police “attacked, apparently indiscriminately.”

“The rebels hid behind hostages and the Army fired on them,” Adams said, describing the acts as “ugly” example of how the fighting in Zamboanga City became.

On the same day, the Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) reported that the number of displaced people climbed to about 114,000.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said it was ready to step in as an intermediary to help the 114,000 civilians displaced since fighting started on Sept. 9.

ICRC-Philippine head Pascal Mauchle was hoping that “a positive settlement will soon be found to the situation in Zamboanga to enable civilians to safely return home and start rebuilding their lives.”

The United Nations through the UNICEF expressed concern over the plight of the displaced people that “include 47,000 children.”

“We condemn in the strongest terms any action undertaken in conflict situations that violates children’s rights. Children have a right to special protection under international law, and every measure must be taken to ensure their protection,” UNICEF-Philippines Representative Tomoo Hozumi said.

UNICEF said it has provided hygiene and water kits to protect children from diseases alongside tents that would serve as temporary learning spaces.

Displaced residents belonging to marginalized tribes like the Sama and Bajau tribes allegedly received shabby treatment in the rationing of relief goods from local social welfare workers of Zamboanga City.

“Most of our 6,000 displaced members hardly get relief assistance. Worse, some of them were being suspected to be allied with the attacking rebels,” Philippine Council of Sama and Badjau, Inc. president Hussayin Arpa said.

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