MANILA, Sept. 12 (Xinhua) -- The U.N. is ready to provide assistance to the thousands of civilians who were displaced by the armed hostilities between Muslim rebels and government forces in the southern Philippine city of Zamboanga.
"The United Nations stands ready to support the government of the Philippines in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and to alleviate the humanitarian needs of the civilian population affected by the armed clashes in Zamboanga," U.N. resident coordinator Luiza Carvalho said Thursday.
At least 15,000 people were displaced after Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) forces, belonging to the faction of the group's founding chairman Nur Misuari, attacked Zamboanga City Monday and took dozens of hostages over allegations that the Philippine government terminated an earlier peace pact.
Carvalho called 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 United Nations Country Team calls for an immediate end to the violence, deeply regrets the loss of innocent civilian lives, and calls for safe passage of civilians caught in the cross fire," she said.
Thousands of residents have fled their homes and took shelter in evacuation centers in a gymnasium and schools amid the violence. Food supply is running low.
The MNLF used to be the largest Muslim rebel group seeking a separate state in Mindanao until it dropped secessionist demand and settled for limited autonomy under a signed agreement in 1996. But many of its guerrillas held on to their firearms and periodically staged rebellions in the past, complaining the government has reneged on its promise to fully develop impoverished Muslim regions.
MNLF's leader, Misuari, opposed the crafting of a peace deal by the government with the currently dominant Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front.