200 villagers seek refuge in Surigao town

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews / 14 July) – A total of 214 families have sought refuge in Malimono town in Surigao del Norte following reports of recurring armed conflict between government soldiers and the New People’s Army (NPA) in the village of Tinago.

Barangay captain Samson Macarine said all residents in his village have fled their homes twice in a span of six days. “First was Saturday and we returned home by Sunday. The second was last Tuesday,” he told MindaNews Thursday via mobile phone.

Macarine said this started when troops of the 30th Infantry Battalion came to Tinago to conduct Peace Development Outreach Program and stayed in the village’s multi-purpose building.

On Saturday, he said, exchange of gun fire happened, prompting some residents to flee and seek refuge in an evacuation center in the town, some 1.5 kilometers away.

Macarine said that on Sunday, the residents went back to their homes. But last Tuesday gun fires were heard again, prompting the residents to flee once more.

“All residents are now suffering because of this and most of us are not comfortable at the evacuation center,” he said.

“Most of the coconut farmers are out of work because they cannot harvest their coconuts,” said the barangay captain.

Macarine said they have asked the military to pull their troops out of the community or at least settle some 500 meters away from the village center.

“People are really scared because they might get caught in the crossfire,” he said.

Macarine added that it seems like the soldiers are using the civilians as human shield.

Lt. Col. Rico Amaro, 30IB commanding officer, told MindaNews there was a clash between New People’s Army rebels and soldiers in the area on Tuesday.

“The NPAs are installing landmines at the back of the school in Tinago,” he said.

Amaro also said that the NPAs asked the villagers to leave the area so that the civilian populace could not get close to the soldiers.

Amaro said all the evacuees who sought refuge at the municipal evacuation center and at the Independent Church of the Philippines were given aid by the Malimono Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office.

Macarine said the villagers have returned to their homes today upon the advice of Amaro.

“We are hoping there will be no more exchange of gun fires. If the fighting recurs, we will flee again and go back to evacuation center. It’s a hassle and dangerous,” he said.

Last month, a seven-year-old girl was killed in Barangay Payapag in Bacuag town due to the firefight between the military and communist guerrillas.