Most of Marawi back in government control, says Philippine military

Thousands of families are forced into evacuation centres in the southern Philippines, while authorities set up stringent check points to prevent Islamic militants from spreading beyond the city of Marawi, where they are currently battling troops.
A family from Marawi resting at an evacuation centre in Balo-i, Mindanao, yesterday. Many more locals are stuck in their homes and are afraid to venture out for fear that militants roaming the streets would kill them or take them hostage.
A family from Marawi resting at an evacuation centre in Balo-i, Mindanao, yesterday. Many more locals are stuck in their homes and are afraid to venture out for fear that militants roaming the streets would kill them or take them hostage.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

It says siege will end soon, seals borders to nearby city to nab fleeing militants

After a week of brutal fighting that claimed around 100 lives, the Philippine military said it has taken back control of most of Marawi City, and expects the siege by Islamist militants to end soon.

Meanwhile, security forces tightened the borders to an adjacent city over fears that the insurgents, who pledge allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), may be hiding among locals fleeing Marawi.

"Our ground commanders have assured (us) that the end is almost there," military spokesman Restituto Padilla said yesterday.

"It is not true that half the city is controlled by the rebels. Our forces are in complete control of the city, except for certain areas... (the insurgents) continue to hold," Brigadier-General Padilla added.

The fighting that erupted a week ago forced some 85,000 people to seek refuge at evacuation centres in Marawi as the military continued to fire rockets at positions held by the Maute group.

Many more locals are stuck in their homes and afraid to venture out for fear that militants roaming the streets would kill them or take them hostage. The fighting has claimed the lives of 19 civilians.

On Sunday, the bodies of eight men, all shot in the head, were found in a shallow ditch. They were believed to have been executed after militants caught them trying to escape.

At least 61 militants have been killed by Philippine security forces, which lost 15 soldiers and three policemen.

 
 
 
 

The Maute group, based in Lanao del Sur, the Mindanao province that includes Marawi, was named after brothers Omarkhayam and Abdullah. They turned to militancy after studying in Islamic schools while working in the Middle East. The brothers belong to a large clan of ethnic Muslims in central Mindanao.

The militants struck after security forces tried to capture Isnilon Hapilon, designated by ISIS as "emir" of its South-east Asia branch. In moving to nab Hapilon, government troops underestimated the strength of the militants protecting him, and the raid went awry.

The militants took over much of Marawi, setting fire to a cathedral and a hospital and taking hostages, including a Catholic priest.

The fighting prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law across Mindanao for 60 days.

Hapilon is still in Marawi, according to Brig-Gen Padilla. "This may be the reason for the fierce resistance our troops are encountering in some areas," he said.

However, sources in Marawi said Hapilon had already been smuggled out of the city.

Acting on reports that militants were disguising themselves as evacuees in order to sneak out of Marawi, security forces cut the passage to nearby Iligan City.

"We don't want what is happening in Marawi to spill over to Iligan," said Colonel Alex Aduca, chief of the Fourth Mechanised Infantry Battalion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 30, 2017, with the headline 'Most of Marawi back in govt control, says military'. Print Edition | Subscribe