Zamboanga war refugees balk at government relocation plan

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ZAMBOANGA CITY: Tens of dozens of villagers displaced by war in September in this city have protested a government relocation plan, saying, it would be extremely difficult for them to rebuild their lives.

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The villagers, many Muslims and indigenous Badjao tribe engaged in fishing, were being relocated to the village of Tulungatung after being displaced by three weeks of fierce fighting between separatist Moro National Liberation Front rebels and security forces in Rio Hondo and other areas.

The government said it has built bunkhouses as temporary shelter to those affected by the violence, but it also warned that villagers who are not natives of Zamboanga would not be allowed to return to their former abode, unless they can provide certificates to show they are landowners.

Some of the refugees accused the government of forcing them into relocating and others claimed social workers threatened to cut off relief aid should they reject the government offer to move to the hilly village of Tulungatung. Refugees carried placards as they marched in Zamboanga to denounce the government blackmail and draw public support to what they claimed is their right to abode.

While others protested, many also praised the government for providing them a living quarter and were elated by their new house, saying it greatly helped them in rebuilding their family and future.

Those displaced by the fighting have been herded to a sports complex here, but the poor sanitation in the evacuation site makes it uninhabitable for many, and is also threatening the health of elderly, the women and the children.

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