REHABILITATION of conflict-affected areas in Zamboanga City has to wait for quite sometime, pending a total clean up of remaining bombs and other improvised explosive devices, which was delayed by floods that hit the affected villages.
Director Adriano Fuego, chief, Office of Civil Defense (OCD)-Region 9, on Monday said that at least one to two weeks were needed before the area could be declared safe and turned over to the city government.
“Although the conduct of crisis strategic assessment was allowed, it was not yet over. Hopefully, one week or two weeks (more). It’s (clearing) not yet finished,” Fuego said.
As a result, he added, residents were not yet allowed to return, particularly those whose houses were burned by the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels during their three-week siege of at least five coastal villages of Zamboanga City.
He explained that while floods have subsided, authorities still need to meticulously inspect every nook and corner of the area for bombs or improvised explosive devices left by the rebels.
Fuego added that there were nine barangay that need to be cleaned up but focus is on Sta. Catalina, Sta. Barbara, Mariki and Rio Hondo.
For said reasons, he further said, affected residents have to remain in evacuation centers.
“Rehabilitation would not start until the areas are cleared,” he stressed, adding that more bunk houses were being constructed for residents who have no more homes to return to, while the others have were in resettlement areas for temporary shelters.
Earlier, Maj. Franco Alano, spokesman, Armed Forces of the Philippijnes-Western Mindanao Command (AFP-Westmincom) also said that the mopping up operation has been extended by another 10 days.
He explained that aside from the recent flooding that hit Zamboanga City there were other variables that added up to the delay, including the possibility that there might still be some MNLF stragglers hiding in the affected areas.
“We won’t sacrifice security over speed. We are not taking any chances,” Franco stressed.
Franco pointed out that the actual clearing operation was actually over and focus is now on mopping up operation as added precautionary measure to ensure the safety of the residents.
Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala, chief, Public Affairs Office, AFP said that the clearing and mopping operations were necessary to ensure that no MNLF members were left and all bombs and other ordnances left behind that may pose danger to the residents were cleaned up.
The Zamboanga conflict has been declared over last September 29 or three weeks after some 300 MNLF rebels occupied at least five coastal barangay of the city.