ZAMBOANGA CITY: Three Muslim provinces have banded to support government rehabilitation and humanitarian efforts in Zamboanga City where thousands of war refugees are still suffering in evacuation areas where dozens of people had died from various diseases.

A second regional leaders’ summit held recently in Zamboanga City has put together the efforts of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi and various civil society groups and Muslim organizations and religious leaders to help the refugees. The provinces are all part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

Vice Gov. Sakur Tan of Sulu was unanimously chosen lead convener of the humanitarian group, which included Govs. Jum Akbar of Basilan and Nurbert Sahali of Tawi-Tawi through his father, former governor Sadikul Sahali, who are actively helping the refugees here.

The summit was also attended by local government officials led by Councilor Myra Abubakar, who represented Mayor Maria Isabelle Salazar of Zamboanga and Engr. Rodrigo Sicat, the Zamboanga City planning and development coordinator, among others.

It discussed among others the so-called Zamboanga City Roadmap to Recovery and Reconstruction and efforts of the local government in aid of evacuees. They were displaced by three weeks of street battles between security forces and hundreds of Moro National Liberation Front rebels who occupied villages in a failed rebellion in September last year.

The clashes left more than 400 people dead and wounded and forced over 120,000 people to flee their homes. The war left many villages in ruins.

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 the elderly, the women and the children.

A technical working group has been organized and headed by Abubakar and Father Albert Alejo of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University to further draw up projects and plans to assist the displaced civilians.

Tan, a respected politician and philanthropist, said they wanted to help as many refugees as possible to complement local and national government interventions.

In December, Tan, along with his son, Gov. Totoh Tan, also led the first regional leader’s summit, which was supported by lawmakers Maryam Arbison of Sulu and Ruby Sahali of Tawi-Tawi and their mayors.

“We are ready to help because our people come to Zamboanga for their medical requirements, for education, for their livelihood,” Tan said.