Fears for 2,000 trapped in battle
MARAWI: Security forces traded heavy gunfire with Islamist militants inside a southern Philippine city yesterday as fears grew for up to 2,000 people unable to escape a week of fighting that has left women and children among the dead.
Street-to-street battles and a relentless military bombing campaign has failed to end the crisis here, one of the biggest Muslim cities in the mainly Catholic Philippines, and authorities expressed alarm about the fate of those trapped.
“They are texting us and calling us for help,” Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee, said of the 2,000 people his office had recorded being unable to leave areas held by the militants.
“They can’t leave because they are afraid of running into checkpoints put up by the gunmen.”
Authorities said the gunmen had murdered at least 19 civilians, including women and children, while 17 members of the security forces had died in the clashes and 61 militants were killed.
Eight bodies were found on Sunday morning, dumped off a bridge on the outskirts here, which is normally a bustling city of 200,000 people known as a centre of Islamic culture and education.
Myrna Bandung, a Catholic woman, said at a checkpoint yesterday as she accompanied one of those bodies out of the city that she had been with the eight when they were murdered.
“They did not kill me because I was able to recite a Muslim prayer. The others were not so lucky,” a visibly shocked Bandung said.
Most of the city’s residents had fled to nearby towns.
But, adding to the fears for those who remained, the military announced on the weekend that it would intensify a bombing campaign on the areas being held by the militants.
When asked yesterday about fears of civilians being bombed, military spokesman BrigadierGeneral Restituto Padilla said airstrikes would be done with precision.
However, he said, the bombings