PH mil­i­tants sought July deal to end Marawi con­flict

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Is­lamic State-in­spired (IS) mil­i­tants who bat­tled troops in a south­ern Philip­pine city for 154 days sought a way out two months into the fierce con­flict, but the gov­ern­ment ig­nored their pro­posal, a sep­a­ratist ne­go­tia­tor and a min­is­ter said.

The takeover of Marawi was the big­gest se­cu­rity cri­sis in decades in the Philip­pines, fu­el­ing con­cern that IS and In­done­sian and Malaysian ex­trem­ists might have greater sway among its mi­nor­ity Mus­lims than pre­vi­ously thought.

Ab­dul­lah Maute, one of those lead­ing the Dawla Is­lamiya rebel al­liance in the city, had en­gaged Mus­lim lead­ers to urge Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte to let the mil­i­tants es­cape in re­turn for the re­lease of scores of cap­tives, one cleric said.

Agakhan Sharief, a Marawi Mus­lim cleric well known to the mil­i­tant Maute clan, said that around July 27, Ab­dul­lah Maute asked for help in ar­rang­ing for the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front (MILF), a sep­a­ratist group at peace with the gov­ern­ment, to re­ceive hostages and es­cort mil­i­tants out of the city.

“He agreed to ne­go­ti­ate to leave Marawi on the con­di­tion the MILF is in­volved,” Sharief told Reuters.

“I told him when he goes out of Marawi, there’s no guar­an­tee the mil­i­tary will not kill him. He said, ‘no prob­lem.’

“He was very se­ri­ous at the time.”

The vi­o­lence in Marawi killed more than 1,100 peo­ple, mostly rebels, and the city cen­ter has been de­stroyed by ar­tillery and gov­ern­ment air strikes.

The mil­i­tary be­lieves Ab­dul­lah was killed in an air strike in early Au­gust, but the body was not found. His brother and co-leader, Omarkhayam, was killed on Oct. 16, along with Is­nilon Hapi­lon, IS’ “emir” in South­east Asia.

The gov­ern­ment al­lowed the MILF to op­er­ate a “peace cor­ri­dor” in Marawi that helped res­cue hun­dreds of civil­ians. The MILF’s top peace ne­go­tia­tor, Mo­hagher Iqbal, con­firmed Maute made the pro­posal, but the gov­ern­ment had ig­nored it.

“There was no for­mal ne­go­ti­a­tion and our role was only to fa­cil­i­tate. It’s up to two sides to agree,” he told Reuters.

“We had some reser­va­tions about the deal. Al­though some of the Maute mem­bers were for­mer MILF, we doubted their in­ten­tions and sin­cer­ity. We do not know if they would honor the deal.”

Scores of hostages es­caped or were res­cued in the last few months of the fight­ing, but it is un­clear how many may have been killed.

Au­thor­i­ties have yet to re­trieve all bod­ies from a bat­tle zone that is still lit­tered with un­ex­ploded mu­ni­tions and home­made bombs. The army says a few mil­i­tant hold­outs are still hid­ing in what is now ground zero.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana told Reuters Duterte was aware of Maute’s re­quest to flee Marawi in ex­change for hostages, but the of­fer was too lit­tle, too late.

“Too many sol­diers had been killed,” he said. “If they had pro­posed that in the first week, when there had not been so many ca­su­al­ties, then it would have been OK.

“It was too late, he [Duterte] was no longer in­clined to en­ter­tain any deals with them.”

Rebels pro­posed free­ing cap­tives in re­turn for their es­cape Duterte re­fused, pro­posal too late — min­is­ter MILF will­ing to fa­cil­i­tate, if gov­ern­ment agreed

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