UN cancels Philippines aid missions after bombings

UN agencies have cancelled all aid missions to the southern Philippines due to safety concerns after a series of bombings that left about a dozen dead and 100 injured, officials said Wednesday.

Soldiers stop motorists at a checkpoint in Cotabato city in southern Philippines July 1, 2009.

"UN security has directed that all missions in Mindanao are cancelled until further notice and all staff movements are restricted," a spokeswoman with the UN's food agency, the World Food Programme (WFP), told AFP.

The WFP had been scheduled to deliver rice next week to thousands of people displaced by hostilities with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the southern region of Mindanao.

The military and police have declared a heightened state of alert in the entire south after the deadly bombings in the city of Cotabato on Sunday and on the island of Jolo and the city of Iligan on Tuesday.

The authorities have blamed the Cotabato and Iligan bombings on the MILF and the Jolo explosion on the Abu Sayyaf, an Al-Qaeda-linked group.

Jolo's head of police, Chief Inspector Usman Salipingay, said the explosion in front of a store on the island could be related to the Abu Sayyaf's kidnapping of an Italian Red Cross worker who has been held since January.

"Our (incident) in Jolo has a different story" because of the kidnapping of Red Cross worker Eugenio Vagni, he said.

"It is the character of the Abu Sayyaf to seek publicity" and try to divert government forces away from their pursuit of the Abu Sayyaf gunmen holding Vagni, he added.

The Abu Sayyaf have been linked by intelligence agencies to the Al-Qaeda network and have been blamed for the worst militant attacks in the Philippines including bombings and kidnappings of foreigners and Christians.

They seized Vagni and two other Red Cross in Jolo in January although the two others were released separately in April.

Officials say the latest attacks appear to have been well coordinated and planned with the help of foreign militants. Police are checking whether all three attacks might be related.

Source: AFP

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