Fears for 2,000 trapped in bat­tle

New Straits Times - - News -

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

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