DATU PIANG, Maguindanao -- Contrary to what the government reported earlier, thousands of evacuees are still housed in evacuation centers in Maguindanao province, said a United Nations (UN) official Sunday.

Australian Counselor Neil McFarlane, head of the UN-Office of the Commission on Humanitarian Aid (UN-Ocha) mission, said the nagging problem in refugee centers of conflict-affected villages and the cyclical evacuation in the province are not yet addressed even until now.

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Over 33,000 individuals were displaced in at least 11 towns of Maguindanao, including this town, following the outbreak of conflict between the military and Moro Islamic Liberation Front forces in August 2008.

According to the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao’s (Armm) Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) record, at least 16,131 individuals are still staying in various evacuation shelters in the province as of March 23, this year.

The same report showed that 5,414 displaced individuals are set to go home next month to their respective communities with the assistance of UN partner relief agencies and security services by military and police units in the area.

In this town alone, some 9,000 individuals are still crammed in three major evacuation sites, contrary to government’s report that the internally displaced persons (IDPs) or “bakwits” have already been sent home.

McFarlane said there has to be a good plan for the evacuees in the province to bring back to normal the lives of thousands of the IDPs housed in evacuation centers in Maguindanao and other troubled spots of the Armm.

The 12-man UN representatives visited evacuation centers in this town and in nearby Maguindanao municipalites last March 25.

The UN-Ocha mission was tasked to conduct actual inspection in refugee centers and recommend interventions that would hasten the return of evacuees to their places of origin under better economic status.

McFarlane was accompanied by Geert Vansistjan of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Michael Curtis, head of Sector DG Echo 1; French Permanent Mission Jean Paul Seytre; Suzanne Loughlin, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Oystein Lyngroth – Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Emma Leonard of Irish Aid; Nance Kyloh of USAid; Gi Domingo, AusAid; and Nick Horne, Carmen Van Heese and Akiko Yoshida, all of Ocha.

UN’s partner agency, World Food Program, distributed its last batch of rice loaded in 11 delivery trucks for distribution to 11,752 evacuees who have recently returned home after their areas were cleared by state forces of Muslim rebels.

Each family, with five members, received five kilos of rice and a kilo of mongo seeds during the visit. (BOT/Sun.Star Davao/Sunnex)