7,000 students return to Marawi campus despite ongoing clashes

Philippine Marines watching a colleague walk away from a house on July 22, 2017, as they take cover from sniper fire while on patrol at the frontline in Marawi, as fighting between government troops and Islamist militants continues.
Philippine Marines watching a colleague walk away from a house on July 22, 2017, as they take cover from sniper fire while on patrol at the frontline in Marawi, as fighting between government troops and Islamist militants continues.PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The Philippines is taking the first steps to restore normalcy in Marawi, even as troops continue to battle Muslim militants still holed up in one pocket of the city for a fourth month.

Mindanao State University (MSU), located at the south-west side of Marawi, reopened on Tuesday (Aug 22) to about 7,000 students, its perimeter tightly secured by more than 300 soldiers.

But in a reminder that war is never far away, security forces battled a group of militants in Marantao town 3km away from the university, just hours before classes began. The fighting began at 5.30am and was over by 7am, according to Captain Jo-ann Petinglay, spokesman of Joint Task Force Marawi.

Buses ferrying students from outside Marawi resumed their trips.

Brigadier-General Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman, earlier assured that the university campus is now well beyond the range of stray bullets.

About 1,000 militants seized large parts of Marawi on May 23 in an audacious bid to turn it into a "province" of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

The army, backed by bombers, helicopter gunships and US surveillance planes, have since boxed the gunmen inside half-a-square km area and whittled their number to just 50 to 60.

The attack forced Marawi's entire population of more than 200,000 to evacuate, and the ensuing battle levelled more than half the city, including its once-thriving commercial centre.

Marawi itself is still closed to civilians and it may take another month before the fighting can end.

But the military has been encouraging those living in towns and villages around Marawi and along Lake Lanao to return to their homes.

"We're slowly opening the road to normalcy for many of the communities that are far from the main battle area, as we work to really solve the presence of the armed elements, the remnants of the Maute group inside," said BG Padilla.