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WFP worker killed as calls for Christmas truce ignored

WFP food assistance arrives in conflict-scorn Mindanao David Swanson/IRIN
Unidentified gunmen attacked a truck used by the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) on Mindanao island, leaving one Filipino aid worker dead and dashing any hopes for a Christmas truce.

The truck had just delivered food to hundreds of families displaced by fighting between the government and the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) when it was ambushed near the town of Calanogas in Lanao del Sur Province on the evening of 21 December.

"The truck was returning to our warehouse after delivering food assistance and it seems it ran into an ambush," WFP country director Stephen Anderson told IRIN in Manila.

"This incident resulted in the killing of a driver's assistant by still-unidentified armed men. WFP strongly deplores the senseless loss of life of an individual who was assisting in the delivery of humanitarian assistance," Anderson said.

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All WFP food convoys travel through the area with prior security clearance and are often assisted by military or police personnel.

It was not clear, however, whether the truck was protected by troops, Anderson said, adding that his office was still working with local authorities to get a full picture of events.

"We are really not able to say much at this time," he said, stressing that no group had claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We will analyse this incident and determine whether anything in terms of security and distribution needs to be adjusted. Our emphasis right now is to gather information into this incident," he said.

This is the first time a UN vehicle has come under direct attack from gunmen. In September, a WFP truck was robbed of some 28 sacks of rice on the southern island, although authorities were treating it as an isolated case of robbery.

WFP has been delivering food assistance to the troubled Mindanao region since 2006 "with a minimum of security incidents" even as it remains fully aware of the risks in conflict zones.

"WFP strives to continuously ensure the safety and security of all our staff, including all contracted staff, in order to reach difficult to access areas," Anderson said.

MILF denies involvement

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied allegations of any involvement in the attack, noting that the area where the truck had been ambushed was overrun by armed gangs that specialised in highway robbery and ambushes.

The MILF "will be tagged the usual suspects", clearly showing the government's insincerity in resuming stalled talks, he said.

MILF has coordinated with international aid agencies in the past and sought to give them "safe passage" to the frontline, Kabalu said.

"We have nothing to gain by attacking them. We value their work and appreciate the job they are doing," he told IRIN. "We have no involvement in this incident whatsoever."

A man receives his 50-kilogram WFP ration of rice at an evacuation centre in Datu Piang, Mindanao 200812231
Photo: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN
A man receives his 50-kilogram WFP ration of rice at an evacuation centre in Datu Piang, Mindanao
WFP assistance

The UN food agency has delivered more than 4,000MT of rice and other food aid in eight Mindanao provinces since violence erupted between the 12,000-strong MILF and government troops in August.

The fighting was touched off when two MILF commanders launched audacious, coordinated raids across several Christian towns and provinces to protest a high court ruling stopping a proposed deal that would have given them economic and political control over a large autonomous area.

At the height of the fighting in August-September, more than 600,000 people were displaced.

Although many have begun returning to their devastated villages in the hope of rebuilding and starting anew, many still remain scattered in cramped evacuation centres in what the authorities have described as a worrying and complex humanitarian situation.

According to the National Disaster Coordination Council (NDCC) on 23 December, more than 75,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are living in evacuation centres in the area, with another 230,000 staying with family and friends.

One hundred sixty-three people have died, not counting military estimates of over 200 MILF guerrillas killed so far, while 123 have been injured or wounded.

Seven towns and two provinces in central Mindanao remain in "a state of calamity", with flooding in many areas adding to the crisis, the NDCC reported.

The cost of emergency relief assistance, which totaled 201.27 million pesos (US$4.28 million) as of 18 December, is also taking its toll on local governments.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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