Philip­pines ends siege against rebels pledged to Islamic State

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Troops in the south­ern Philip­pines re­took a dis­used build­ing from Mus­lim mil­i­tants yes­ter­day, end­ing an in­tense five-day siege that killed dozens of fight­ers the au­thor­i­ties say had pledged al­le­giance to Islamic State. The in­ci­dent high­lights the chal­lenges fac­ing Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte in keep­ing or­der in the Philip­pines, par­tic­u­larly in his na­tive south, riven by na­tion­al­ist re­bel­lions for decades.

The mil­i­tary stepped up its of­fen­sive after the weekend, pound­ing rebels holed up in a dis­used mu­nic­i­pal hall with ar­tillery and bombs dropped from air­craft. The army said 30 se­cu­rity forces were wounded and 61 rebels killed in the op­er­a­tion. The mil­i­tants be­longed to the Maute group, one of sev­eral Is­lamist groups in the coun­try’s restive south.

The siege ended as Duterte vis­ited in­jured soldiers in Lanao del Sur province, where seven of his ad­vance se­cu­rity party were wounded on Tues­day, when sus­pected Maute mili­tias set off a bomb un­der their truck. “The town is de­serted and the Maute is with­draw­ing to­wards the moun­tain,” said mil­i­tary spokesman Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Resti­tuto Padilla. “They have been dec­i­mated. The ca­pa­bil­ity to sus­tain and get back to the fight is no longer there.”

The gov­ern­ment sus­pects the Maute group in a Sept. 2 bomb­ing in Duterte’s home city, Davao, which killed 14 peo­ple and wounded more than 70. Last week Duterte ap­pealed to the Islamic Statelinked Abu Sayyaf to dis­arm and start talks. He urged them to halt piracy and kid­nap­ping and not re­tal­i­ate on civil­ians for mil­i­tary operations to drive the rebels from their is­land strongholds. Duterte has re­cently warned Islamic State could take root in the Philip­pines and stressed the need to avoid “con­tam­i­na­tion”, a risk also faced by neigh­bour­ing Malaysia and In­done­sia.

The for­mer mayor, who is oversee­ing a drugs crack­down that has killed more than 2,500 peo­ple, of­fered an olive branch to Maute, ques­tion­ing why it wanted to take or­ders from Islamic State. “Maute, they are in­spired by ISIS,” Duterte said in a speech, us­ing an ab­bre­vi­a­tion that refers to Islamic State. “I did not want to wage a war against my own coun­try­men. Please do not force my hand.” But he vowed not to re­lent.

“When the time comes, it’s go­ing to be a war against ter­ror­ism and drugs and I will tell you now, I will be harsh,” Duterte said. “As harsh as I can ever be.” Sep­a­rately, two men were ar­rested on Mon­day north of the cap­i­tal, Manila, over the plant­ing of a home­made bomb near the US em­bassy. The de­vice was det­o­nated safely by po­lice, who sus­pect the Maute of be­ing be­hind it. — Reuters

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