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UN Warns of Humanitarian Crisis in Southern Philippines

  • VOA News

Evacuees queue for relief goods in a sports stadium which has been turned into an evacuation center Zamboanga, Sept. 20, 2013.
The United Nations has issued a warning that a humanitarian crisis in quickly worsening in Zamboanga, a city in the southern Philippines that has been the site of two weeks of fighting between Muslim rebels and the military.

U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Luiza Carvalho said on Wednesday that more than 109,000 people remain displaced in Zamboanga. That figure is equivalent to a tenth of the population of the major coastal town.

Most of the people have taken refuge in a sports complex, which Carvalho described as "desperately overcrowded." She said the current situation was fraught with risks, including the possibility of a disease outbreak and a shortage of food, drinking water and supplies at the stadium.

At least 132 people have died in the conflict, which began when rebels linked to the Moro National Liberation Front stormed the city and took scores of civilians hostage. Since then, most of the hostages appear to have been freed.

Philippine officials have repeatedly said they are nearing an end to the standoff with the remaining rebels, who are hiding in homes in the affected neighborhoods.

The MNLF has long pushed for greater autonomy for the mainly Muslim south, where a four-decade-long insurgency has killed at least 120,000 people.

The group signed a peace agreement with the government in 1996 that led to the creation of an autonomous region in Mindanao, but some of its members continued to fight, claiming Manila did not hold up its end of the deal to develop the impoverished, rural region.