Sunday, June 14, 2020

Evacuees return to conflict-wracked Cotabato villages

From the Philippine Star (Jun 13, 2020): Evacuees return to conflict-wracked Cotabato villages (John Unson)

NORTH COTABATO, Philippines — It may take some time for conflict-stricken residents of three barangays in Pikit town to rebuild their homes but their enthusiasm will help them easily get through, officials said Saturday.

Hundreds of families from Pikit’s adjoining Barangays Balungis, Nunguan and Balatican started returning last week to the villages that they abandoned last month due to hostilities between rival groups in the
Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front.

North Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco, chairperson of the provincial peace and order council (PPOC), told reporters Saturday the Regional Police Office-12, the Army’s 602nd Brigade and the local government unit of Pikit shall together prevent recurrence of the troubles in the three barangays that caused the displacement of about 2,000 families.

The PPOC, the police, the military and the Pikit LGU brokered last week an initial truce between the feuding MILF and MNLF forces with the help of regional officials of both groups.

“There is this feeling of relief now among the affected residents and they are enthusiastic to rebuild their villages with the help of the provincial government, their municipal officials, the police and the 602nd Brigade,” Catamco said.

Brig. Gen. Roberto Capulong of the 602nd Brigade said they will sustain the zeal of the evacuees by keeping the visibility of soldiers in Barangays Balungis, Nunguan and Balatican to prevent the rival MNLF and MILF forces from coming back.

More than 50 houses were burned by both sides as they figured in a series of bloody encounters last month.

Capulong said the affected villagers are optimistic they can easily restore normalcy in the three barangays with the help of the North Cotabato provincial government and the Pikit LGU.

Catamco, Capulong and LGU officials facilitated last week the return of hundreds of evacuees to Barangays Balungis, Nunguan and Balatican.

The evacuees agreed to return after provincial officials, the 602nd Brigade and top leaders of the MNLF and the MILF brokered an initial security pact enjoining the rival forces to reposition away from the three barangays.

The two groups are squabbling for control of villages in the three barangays, a dispute the provincial government and municipal officials in Pikit are now trying to resolve amicably.

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