Indian Catholic News

Soldiers block food reaching displaced tribals in Mindanao

Aid agencies, press also barred from having access to those taking shelter from Philippine military.

 
Soldiers block a road to the village of Diatagon in the town of Lianga, Agusan del Sur province, where about 1,600 tribal people sought shelter after leaving their communities on July 16. (Photo by Ben Serrano)
Diatagon: 

Soldiers are blocking roads leading to a village sports gymnasium in the southern Philippines where about 1,600 tribal people who fled their communities this week have taken shelter.

Soldiers manning checkpoints in the village of Diatagon in Agusan del Sur province told journalists they had to get clearance from officials in the nearby town of Lianga.

Local people have complained of soldiers demanding to see receipts for goods they purchased before being allowed back into the village, especially near a gymnasium where the tribal people are sheltering.

When ucanews.com tried to enter the area on July 19, soldiers accosted our reporter. The soldiers got angry and barred our reporter from taking photographs.

Merlyn Layno, Lianga town's disaster management officer, confirmed that an agreement had been reached between the military and local officials to check food before allowing it to be taken into the area.

"[Non-government personnel and the media] must also undergo the same process. They will undergo screening for security purposes," Layno told ucanews.com.

Layno said the tribal people fled without a valid reason, despite their claims of military harassment.

"The problem is that they went against our advice not to evacuate," she said.

"No one told them to flee. And now it is creating a huge problem," added Layno, who admitted that there was a shortage of water in the village.

Melita Encenzo, the town's social welfare official, also backed an earlier claim by the military that there was no reason for the tribe to evacuate.

Encenzon, however, said there were reported armed clashes between government troops and communist rebels in recent weeks.

Zaldy Sanchez, spokesman of the tribal group Mapasu, said the evacuees left their homes for fear of being caught in crossfire especially after soldiers started to set up camps in their communities.

The military has confirmed that soldiers have been deployed in Diatagon where the displaced tribal people fled to on July 16.

Military spokesman Captain Rodulfo Cordero Jr., said the soldiers were there to provide security.

"If something happens there, the army will be blamed," he said.

A statement from tribal group Kasalo, however, said attacks against tribal people have intensified in recent months.

"We evacuated because the military has been harassing us, and now we are here, they continue with their wrongdoings," read the group's statement.

The evacuation of about 1,600 tribal people from their homes in hinterland areas of Lianga and San Agustin towns began on July 16.

A statement released by the tribal group Mapasu said they were forced to leave their communities because "soldiers had been spreading fear" among residents.

Source: UCAN

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