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UN agency to probe sale of donated rice in Maguindanao

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations World Food Program will conduct an investigation into the reported pilferage and sale of more than 3,000 bags of WFP rice intended for evacuees in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao.

Stephen Anderson, Country Director and Representative, UN World Food Program-Philippines, said yesterday that the WFP is working closely with concerned authorities to investigate two incidents that occurred last May 30 and 31 in Datu Saudi Ampatuan where the agency had set the distribution of 3,330 bags of rice to 6,654 evacuees.

“WFP will conduct a thorough investigation along with national counterpart, the Department of Social Welfare and Development and our NGO cooperating partner Community and Family Services International and other concerned stakeholders. We will share more information after this investigation,” Anderson said in a statement.

“The UN World Food Program takes the issue of accountability very seriously. WFP food is meant for direct consumption by the intended beneficiaries, and labeled bags of WFP rice are not meant for sale or tender by others or for resale in markets,” he added.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said 221 sacks of WFP rice were allegedly sold by the so-called internally displaced persons (IDPs) to rice traders. The AFP intercepted two trucks with rice at a military checkpoint and confiscated the food. AFP had returned the confiscated rice to WFP.

WFP has provided over 11,200 tons of emergency food aid to vulnerable internally displaced persons affected by the fighting between government troops and local rebels since August 2008.

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“We recognize that there are serious challenges in providing humanitarian assistance in this complex environment,” Anderson said.

WFP, which is set to feed nearly 100 million of the world’s hungriest people in 2009, announced that it would start the New Year needing $5.2 billion for urgent hunger needs.

AFP denies food blockade

The AFP has denied imposing a food blockade in Central Mindanao and the military instead claimed that government troops prevented the pilferage of the relief goods after a truckload of rice was intercepted last Sunday.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Ponce, spokesman of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, said that they have talked with representatives of the United Nations WFP and clarified that the soldiers were not blocking the food convoy for the evacuees.

“Yesterday, we talked with representatives of the UN food program and after clarifying matters with them, they thanked us because we recovered the food supplies that were intended for the evacuees,” he said.

Ponce said that last Sunday, troopers were able to stop a truck loaded with 221 sacks of rice from the WFP but the driver and owner of the truck, a certain Badrodin Kamsa of Shariff Aguak, failed to show pertinent documents for his cargo, prompting the soldiers to hold him and have him investigated.

The sacks of rice, which were apparently pilfered, were later turned over to the WFP, Ponce said.

“There is no food blockade. We just held the supplies because the person bringing them was not able to present the necessary documents, and these would be returned to the UN WFP anytime,” he said.

The evacuees are staying in government relief centers for fear of getting caught in the crossfire between Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels and the military.

Troops have been running after MILF commander Ameril Umbra Kato and his followers after they pillaged civilian communities in North Cotabato last August.

Ponce said the checkpoint that intercepted the truck was put up to prevent criminal elements from conducting their activities such as bombings in the area. – With James Mananghaya

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