85,000 go home months after siege

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COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao: Some 85,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in various municipalities in the province of Maguindanao are now back to their homes, an official of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao- Humanitarian Emergency Action Response Team (ARMM-HEART) on Monday said.

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“As of this date, 16,996 families, or 84,980 individuals, have already returned to their respective residences,” said Ramil Masukat, ARMM- HEART director.

Masukat said it has been roughly more than two months since the military ended its “intensified law enforcement” operation against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) and other terrorist groups in the region.

The military operation resulted in the displacement of a significant number of residents in as many as 11 towns. The military action was in response to the January 25 incident in Mamasapano town in Maguindanao, according to him.

Based on the ARMM-HEART latest report, a total of 8,071 families, or 40,355 individuals, are still in evacuation centers. The number has dropped from the highest number recorded, or 25,067 families comprising of 125,335 individuals, affected by the intensified operation. From 11 municipalities originally affected, the number has gone down to only five.

Currently, there are 30 evacuation centers in the five remaining affected municipalities of Guindulungan, Datu Saudi, Datu Salibo, Shariff Saydona and Datu Unsay, all in Maguindanao.

A number of families had opted to stay in evacuation centers because of fear for their safety notwithstanding assurances issued by the authorities, the ARMM-HEART director emphasized.

“Most of the families are still uneasy because they are afraid they might be trapped in case of an exchange of gunfire between the different forces,” said Director Masukat.

Even as the military declared an end to “intensified law enforcement” operation on March 31, soldiers are still conduct activities aimed at stopping terrorism in the province.

Masukat said his team has been distributing relief goods to the IDPs. This is in compliance to a directive from ARMM Governor Mujiv Hataman.

He said his office is coordinating with local government units in the affected towns to accurately monitor the situation.

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