New kid­nap­pings, jail­break hit restive Philip­pine is­land

Forces or­dered to de­stroy ran­som-seek­ing mil­i­tants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JOLO, Philip­pines: Sus­pected Abu Sayyaf gun­men ab­ducted four work­ers in a school in a south­ern Philip­pine prov­ince where Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte vis­ited troops wag­ing an of­fen­sive against the mil­i­tants, of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day. About 20 mil­i­tants barged into a grade school com­pound in Sulu prov­ince’s Patikul town shortly af­ter mid­night Satur­day and seized six painters and car­pen­ters, one of whom man­aged to es­cape and alerted the po­lice. Army troops later res­cued an­other worker.

Duterte pinned medals on wounded troops dur­ing a brief visit late Satur­day to Sulu, a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim prov­ince about 950 kilo­me­ters south of Manila. The tough-talk­ing pres­i­dent has or­dered gov­ern­ment forces to de­stroy the ran­som-seek­ing mil­i­tants, who still hold about 25 for­eign and Filipino hostages in Sulu’s jun­gles.

Mean­while, 14 in­mates, in­clud­ing sus­pected Abu Sayyaf fight­ers and drug deal­ers, es­caped early yes­ter­day from a jail in a new build­ing that also houses the po­lice head­quar­ters in a gov­ern­ment com­pound in Sulu’s main town of Jolo, po­lice said.

Three of those who es­caped were gunned down by po­lice and an­other was shot and cap­tured. Army troops were help­ing po­lice track down the rest with the use of mil­i­tary drones and snif­fer dogs, a po­lice state­ment said. The new kid­nap­pings and jail­break re­flect the di­verse se­cu­rity chal­lenges con­fronting Duterte’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in the south, where thou­sands of troops have been sep­a­rately bat­tling mil­i­tants aligned with the Is­lamic State group who laid siege to the city of Marawi on May 23.

Af­ter nearly two months of fight­ing, more than 530 peo­ple, in­clud­ing 405 mil­i­tants and 95 sol­diers and po­lice, have died in the vi­o­lence in the lake­side city, a cen­ter of Is­lamic faith in the south­ern third of the largely Ro­man Catholic coun­try. Backed by airstrikes, troops are fight­ing about 60 to 70 re­main­ing mil­i­tants, who are hold­ing an un­spec­i­fied num­ber of civil­ian hostages in four Marawi com­mu­ni­ties in an of­fen­sive that Duterte said last week was wind­ing down. He said the of­fen­sive won’t stop un­til the last mil­i­tant is killed.

Duterte, how­ever, has said he would likely ex­tend the mar­tial law he im­posed in the south be­cause the sit­u­a­tion in Marawi re­mains crit­i­cal. De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said he gave the pres­i­dent his rec­om­men­da­tion on the ques­tion of ex­tend­ing or end­ing mar­tial rule last week. Nearly 400,000 peo­ple, in­clud­ing most of Marawi’s 200,000 res­i­dents, have been dis­placed by the cri­sis and many have yearned to re­turn home amid the mis­ery in over­crowded evac­u­a­tion cen­ters.

Duterte’s spokesman, Ernesto Abella, how­ever, said Marawi re­mains fraught with dan­ger, es­pe­cially for chil­dren and women. “There is no as­sur­ance that ar­eas out­side the main bat­tle zone are al­ready safe to re­side and live in as in­ci­dents of cases of stray bul­let vic­tims have been re­ported,” Abella said. “The clear­ing of the en­tire city of Marawi of IEDs and booby traps left by ter­ror­ists, un­ex­ploded ord­nance and other ex­plo­sives is still on­go­ing. The dan­ger and risks th­ese pose still re­main high.”—AP

MANILA: In this file photo, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte ges­tures while ad­dress­ing Filipino Mus­lim lead­ers dur­ing a re­cep­tion at the Pres­i­den­tial Palace in Manila, Philip­pines.—AP

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