Forced evacuation in 5 Zambo villages
Louis Bacani (The Philippine Star) - September 13, 2013 - 11:52am

ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines  - The continuing standoff between government forces and Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels has prompted authorities to implement a forced evacuation in at least five barangays in Zamboanga City.

On Thursday night, the Zamboanga City Council approved Ordinance 418, implementing forced evacuation in the barangays of Rio Hondo, Santa Barbara, Santa Catalina, Talon-Talon, and Mampang.

The city government earlier said that the standoff is confined in these areas.

Zamboanga City has a total of 98 barangays.

Mayor Beng Climaco said on her Facebook account that forced evacuation has been implemented as a resort "when a disaster or emergency has been declared in the City of Zamboanga and danger or loss of lives becomes imminent."

Thousands have  been evacuated due to the ongoing standoff while dozens are reportedly being used as human shields by the MNLF members.

The rebels on Friday has released Catholic priest Fr. Michael Ufana, one of those held captive.

Hundreds of residents who refused to leave were seen packing their belongings on their vehicles while many were walking on the streets toward safer  areas with their families and personal belongings amid gunfires.

President Benigno Aquino III has flown to Zamboanga City to personally assess the situation on the ground.

Related stories: MNLF rebels free hostage priestPNoy heads to Zambo amid standoff

 Malacañang on Thursday assured the affected residents that their needs will be addressed by the government.

"To the people of Zamboanga City, your government stands in solidarity with you and is working to ensure your needs are met," Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has been assured that the United Nations (UN) is ready to support the humanitarian assistance to the residents of Zamboanga City.

The UN team in the Philippines also urged the government and the MNLF to immediately end the ongoing standoff and called for safe passage of civilians caught in the cross fire.

"The United Nations calls on all parties involved to respect and protect the rights of the civilian population, provide special attention to women and children and avoid unnecessary human suffering by reaching agreement to end the standoff," the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in the Philippines said in a statement.

The United States embassy in Manila said on Thursday that it will designate $600,000 (P26.4 million) to provide relief to the affected people.

“The United States has always been there for the Philippines in times of need, and we continue that tradition today for those suffering in Zamboanga," an embassy statement quoted US Ambassador Harry Thomas as saying. - with Roel Pareño 

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