Residents in some areas in Maguindanao are still afraid to return to their homes weeks after the military ended its all-out offensive against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, a humanitarian organization said.
In a statement on Saturday, Pascal Mauchle, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation in the Philippines said thousands of residents are uncertain if their homes are now safe from armed clashes.
"Although the fighting in Maguindanao has stopped, irregular skirmishes and uncertainty in the area prevent displaced families from returning to their homes," Mauchie said.
The ICRC said families living in evacuation are still dependent on aid, which their organization has been providing since February 25, when the all-out offensive began.
The group has been providing the evacuees with food, water and other needs, including medical assistance.
Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang ordered the offensive on Feb. 25, exactly a month after the deadly Jan. 25 Mamasapano incident in Maguindanao, which claimed the lives of 67 Filipinos, including 44 Philippine National Police-Special Action Force troopers.
The SAF commandos were then on a mission to arrest terrorists Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir also known as Marwan, Filipino bomb maker and Abu Sayyaf member Basit Usman, and Malaysian bomb maker Amin Baco alias Jihad. The elite police force figured in an hours-long gunfight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the BIFF, and private armed groups.
The military offensive, which was terminated on March 30, was concentrated in the so-called SPMS (Salvu, Pagatin, Mamasapano and Shariff Aguak towns) box.
'Safe to return home'
For his part, AFP public affairs chief Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc told GMA News Online that residents should not be afraid.
"There is no reason for them to fear in returning home after the all-out offensive operations were terminated on March 30. Also, the local chief executives have declared the area as safe," he said.
Cabunoc added that he is calling on relief organizations to "consider transferring the relief distribution points inside the communities where the IDPs (internally-displaced persons) reside."