UN agency hikes food aid in southern Philippines

Farm laborers plant rice seedlings at the experimental plots of the International Rice Research Institute, IRRI, at Los Banos, Laguna province 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Saturday May 3, 2008. IRRI scientists are working on better ways to improve rice yields through better soil and water management. Started in 1963, IRRI, planted Saturday its 133rd crop in long term trials in plots with zero fertilizer and nitrogen. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

Farm laborers plant rice seedlings at the experimental plots of the International Rice Research Institute, IRRI, at Los Banos, Laguna province 70 kilometers (43 miles) south of Manila, Philippines Saturday May 3, 2008. IRRI scientists are working on better ways to improve rice yields through better soil and water management. Started in 1963, IRRI, planted Saturday its 133rd crop in long term trials in plots with zero fertilizer and nitrogen. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- A U.N. official said Friday his agency has increased food supplies to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by fighting between government troops and Muslim separatist rebels in the southern Philippines.

The government disaster agency reported Friday that more than 500,000 people have been displaced or have lost their homes and livelihoods since violence erupted last month following the aborted signing of a preliminary accord between the government and the rebels on a Muslim homeland.

Rice supplies for the refugees have been increased from 1,200 tons to 1,700 tons, enough for 410,000 people for one month, said Stephen Anderson, country director for the World Food Program in the Philippines.

"If the security situation deteriorates, we will likely see more IDPs (internally displaced people)," he told The Associated Press. He said the displacement has been the largest since a similar flare up of violence in 2003.

"We are just focusing on the humanitarian consequences of what is going on," he said. "Clearly we're worried because we see very, very large numbers of internally displaced."

He expressed alarm over the seizure Wednesday of 28 bags of rice by two unknown men on a road outside Mamasapano township in Maguindanao province. The rice was part of a cargo of 60 bags of rice on a truck headed to a village in Mamasapano where it was intended for 120 refugee families. An investigation was under way.

The gunbattles have largely subsided since the start early September of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, said army Brig. Gen. Jorge Segovia, the military's spokesman on the current military offensive.

He said the military was using the lull in the fighting to deploy more troops and supplies to the south.

A peace deal to end the Muslim rebellion seemed within reach early August after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front reached a highly contentious accord that sought to expand a Muslim autonomous region by adding more than 700 villages, subject to the approval of residents in a plebiscite.

But Christian politicians in areas that would be affected challenged the deal in the Supreme Court, which ordered officials not to sign the agreement.

That triggered rebel attacks on predominantly Christian towns on the main southern island of Mindanao. Dozens of civilians were shot and hacked to death.


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