Philippine security officials yesterday declared an end to fierce urban fighting in Marawi, exactly five months after hundreds of pro-ISIS militants stormed the city and held on to parts of it in what has become the Philippines' biggest security crisis in years.
"We now announce the termination of all combat operations in Marawi," Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said in a statement he read to reporters, less than a week after President Rodrigo Duterte declared Marawi "free from terrorists' influence" on Oct 17.
Mr Lorenzana said the Philippines has "nipped the budding infrastructure and defeated terrorism in the Philippines".
"There are no more militants inside Marawi," he said.
Early yesterday morning, government troops in Marawi seized a building where the militants made their last stand.
"This is the last group of stragglers… They were caught in one building. There was a firefight, and 42 cadavers were recovered," he said, adding that they have not yet identified all of the bodies.
Mr Lorenzana announced the end of the fighting in Marawi as South-east Asian defence ministers opened their annual meeting at the Clark Freeport north of Manila, with counter-terrorism strategies high on the agenda.
The conflict began when hundreds of militants stormed Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn the city into a "province" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.
More than 1,000 militants, government troops and civilians have been killed in the conflict. Half of Marawi lies in ruins, levelled by air raids, artillery barrages and fierce urban fighting. About 400,000 people have been displaced.
General Eduardo Ano, the military chief, said in the same news briefing that among those who were killed were the wives of two militants and five foreigners.
"We are very confident that none managed to escape," he said.
Major-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, said that there may still be some gunfire on the ground, possibly from the militants' sympathisers or as a result of incidents involving loose firearms.
"From time to time, you may hear gunfire being fired... This may require our troops to reckon if there is any existing threat," he said. "But confrontation types of engagements - there are no more of that."
Mr Lorenzana said the Philippines will now seek to cooperate with other nations to deal with new security threats that will emerge in the aftermath of the Marawi siege.
"We will be cooperating, especially with Asean nations that are vulnerable to this kind of threat: Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Brunei," he said.
He added in his statement: "While we submit that these tactical and strategic gains will not annihilate the ideology completely, we declare that this achievement is a clear manifestation of how our regional cooperation can lead to a decisive advance against the proliferation of terrorism in this part of the world."