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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines -- About 500 families displaced by the latest clash between soldiers and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels in Ungkaya Pukan in Basilan have run out of provisions and were forced to forage for food, Mayor Joel Maturan said.

"Not a single social welfare personnel went up here to deliver food assistance or relief," Maturan said.

Maturan said because of lack of food, the displaced residents have had to content themselves with cassava and bananas for three straight days now.

"My people are suffering. Although there are cassava and bananas, these are not enough," he said.

Maturan said what compounded the problem on the lack of food is the scarcity of funds.

"Much as I want to help, I don't have funds for emergency. I don't even have money to buy medicines or used clothing," he said by phone.

A television report quoted some villagers as saying they were waiting for the military's go signal so they can go back to their homes.

But Maturan said the military might not allow civilians back into their villages yet because of reports that MILF rebels were regrouping in Silangcom village.

Aside from the lack of food, Maturan said he was also worried that classes would not be held in the affected villages.

Marine Commandant Major General Ben Dolorfino said they were trying to avoid a direct confrontation with the MILF, which is engaged in a peace talks with the government.

"The troops were directed to stay away from schools and populated areas," he said.(Mindanao Bureau. )


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