Manila: Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced millions in aid for a besieged Philippine city.
Bishop, in a statement, said Australia’s A$20 million (Dh58 million) assistance programme for Marawi City would be implemented over the course of four years and is aimed at supporting recovery efforts and improving long term peace and stability on the island of Mindanao.
The assistance is in addition to the A$920,000 emergency food and other supplies assistance that the Australian Foreign Minister had announced last June 20, 2017.
Bishop said she had met with President Rodrigo Duterte last Tuesday and “discussed the conflict in Marawi and the impact it is having on civilians in the region.”
On May 23, 2017, fighting broke out in Marawi City between government forces and Daesh-inspired militants from the Lanao Del Sur-based Maute group, which is fighting together with its Abu Sayyaf allies.
The conflict has wrought massive destruction and caused enormous distress to the population of Marawi, with around 360,000 people forced to flee their homes.
Bishop said Australia’s support aims to meet the urgent needs of the displaced people and would provide child protection and counselling services.
Assistance from other countries to Marawi City refugees has been streaming in steadily.
On Monday, a Singapore Air Force cargo aircraft delivered supplies and assistance for the evacuees.
The Singapore Air Force C-130 landed at the Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro City.
In July a Royal Malaysia Air Force cargo aircraft laden with 19 tonnes of supplies from other Southeast Asian countries also delivered assistance to people displaced from Marawi.
Bishop said that aside from immediate assistance to the displaced people, Australia is also looking at the long term stability on the area.
“Australian assistance will also fund small-scale infrastructure projects for communities around Marawi including provision of clean drinking water and repair of local roads. In addition, the Australian Government will assist community peace efforts and strengthen local capacity to resist and counter extremism,” it said.
Extremism is an increasing threat in southern Philippines.
In the case of the crisis in Marawi City, there are strong indications that hardline Islamist militants from nearby countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, among others, have taken an active part in the uprising.
It also happens that Australia is in proximity to these countries.
“Australia remains committed to supporting the peace process and development in Muslim Mindanao, which are critical for a strong, stable Philippines, and our assistance will complement the existing programmes and priorities of the Philippine Government.
“The Australian Government continues to work with the Philippine Government to combat terrorism in the region,” Bishop said.
Bishop’s visit to Duterte last Tuesday was closely followed by a call from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The two top foreign officials were in the country to attend the meetings in relation to the 50th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). United States and Australia are among the dialogue partners of the 10 member states of Asean.