Mil­i­tants force kids, hostages to fight

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA: Chil­dren and hostages are be­ing forced to fight along­side pro-Is­lamic State gun­men wag­ing a seven-week bat­tle for a Philip­pine city, the coun­try’s mil­i­tary said yes­ter­day. Mil­i­tants seized Marawi, con­sid­ered the Mus­lim cap­i­tal of the largely Catholic Philip­pines, on May 23 in a bid to cre­ate an IS prov­ince, and over 100 re­main holed up in the city de­spite in­tense mil­i­tary ef­forts to oust them. Some of the ex­trem­ists are teenagers who may have been re­cruited and trained to use guns when they were still chil­dren, said Bri­gadierGen­eral Resti­tuto Padilla, a mil­i­tary spokesman.

“We con­tin­u­ously get dis­turb­ing nar­ra­tives from (es­caped res­i­dents) that chil­dren as well as hostages are be­ing em­ployed in the fire­fight,” Padilla told re­porters in Manila. Ca­su­al­ties among chil­dren and civil­ians forced to take up arms could not be ruled out, Padilla said. “As dis­turb­ing as it is, our troops are do­ing their best to avoid any ca­su­alty among these chil­dren that are be­ing em­ployed,” he said. “But in the event... they bear arms and are in­volved in the fight­ing, there is noth­ing much that we can do. Sim­i­larly to the hostages who are be­ing forced.”

Shortly af­ter seiz­ing Marawi gun­men took at least a dozen hostages, in­clud­ing a Catholic priest. Some of the es­ti­mated 300 other civil­ians still trapped in the area may have also been taken cap­tive, said Padilla. The mil­i­tary ear­lier said civil­ians had been forced to help the gun­men by car­ry­ing sup­plies and am­mu­ni­tion, bear­ing their wounded and even help­ing them loot the city. More than 500 peo­ple have been killed in the fight­ing, in­clud­ing 89 sol­diers and po­lice, 39 civil­ians and 379 mil­i­tants, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased by the gov­ern­ment yes­ter­day.

Nearly 400,000 civil­ians have fled their homes. Daily air strikes and ar­tillery bar­rages against mil­i­tant snipers who con­trol tall build­ings have left Marawi’s cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict a ghost town. Philip­pine pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte last month vowed to “crush” the mil­i­tants but sev­eral gov­ern­ment-set dead­lines to end the con­flict have al­ready been missed. The fight­ing also prompted Duterte to de­clare mar­tial law over the en­tire south­ern Philip­pines. Padilla yes­ter­day ex­pressed hope that the fight­ing would soon be con­cluded. “We con­tinue to gain head­way with our op­er­a­tions on the ground,” he said.—AFP

MARAWI: This un­dated handout photo re­ceived from the Philip­pine mil­i­tary yes­ter­day shows mil­i­tant mem­bers of the so-called Maute group, an ISIS-af­fil­i­ated group, in­side a house in Marawi.—AFP

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