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AI warns violence between state forces, rebels puts tribal people’s lives at risk

Amnesty International warned that escalating violence in the southern Philippine province of Surigao del Sur between government security forces and the communist-led New People’s Army is putting the lives of tribal people at risk.

The human rights group reported that it has received reports of harassment perpetrated both by the military and the rebels where a large number of residents have been internally displaced due to armed violence in the area.

“Incidents of killings of civilians, some of young indigenous people, are very concerning,” said Butch Olano, director of Amnesty International Philippines, in a statement.

He said violence between state forces and non-state actors in Surigao del Sur has continued to build up after the Anti-Terrorism Law was enacted in July.

Shortly after the enactment of the new law, violence in the province has been on a steady rise with the recent killing of two young individuals from the Manobo tribe in Madrid town.

Reports received by Amnesty International Philippines noted that indigenous peoples’ communities have constantly been living in fear for their safety due to the escalating military campaign against the rebels.

The group said the military’s counter-insurgency measures have caused “panic and distress” to the residents of Madrid, Tandag, and other communities.

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“Some have fled from their homes as most of their livelihoods have been affected by military operations,” read Amnesty International’s report.

Olano reminded state forces not to forget “to uphold the protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law as part of any counter-insurgency strategy.”

“The government should recognize that clashes between state forces and armed groups drastically affect the lives and livelihood of civilians, and must adopt a concrete plan for the internally displaced or those who are forced to flee out of fear for their lives and safety,” he said.

Amnesty International Philippines called on the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples “to do its job in preventing rights violations against [indigenous peoples] groups in the affected areas.”

The human rights group denounced “indiscriminate attacks” brought about by military operations, as well as attacks targeting the general population carried out by non-state actors.

“We call on the military and the [rebels] to refrain from any attack of this nature,” said Olano, adding that all attacks targeting members of the general population “must be promptly and effectively investigated” and those suspected of responsibility “must be brought to justice in fair trials.”

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