Government troops on Saturday started helping families displaced by fighting in Zamboanga Sibugay return to their homes as the situation in the conflict area, a military spokesman said.

“Going back to normal na ‘yung situation sa Payao,” acting Army spokesman Maj. Harold Cabunoc said, adding that troops will soon turn over security measures in the area back to the local police.

Some 3,808 families or 19,066 people were displaced by fighting between government troops and “lawless elements” in Zamboanga Sibugay. Of these, 670 families or 3,353 people stayed at evacuation centers, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

According to Cabunoc, members of the 102nd Brigade have been deployed to help personnel of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and local governments return the displaced persons back to their homes. Scout Rangers, meanwhile, are on standby for the hunt of remaining bandits.

The Army spokesman, however, admitted that not all evacuees, especially those living near the conflict area in Sitio Talaib, Brgy. Labatan, Payao, will be able to return home immediately.

“Isa ‘yun sa tinitingnan, na ‘yung areas ng mga civilians na ‘yung bahay ay medyo nasa secluded area dun sa Payao, hindi muna pabalikin hanggang hindi di pa na-clear ng EOD (Explosives and Ordnance Disposal team) kasi baka may mga nakalagay na mga landmines,” Cabunoc said.

Earlier, the military said at least 10 improvised landmines were recovered while troops were assaulting bandit leader Waning Abdusalam’s lair in Sitio Talaib. (John Roson)

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