Bat­tle of Marawi City in Philip­pines f]Yjdq gn]j

Con­flict was pro­longed be­cause army held back from bomb­ing mosques, says Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL - EL­LIE ABEN

MANILA: The bat­tle to re­take Marawi City is draw­ing to a close af­ter months of in­tense fight­ing be­tween govern­ment forces and the Daesh-in­spired Maute group, the Philip­pine de­fense chief has said.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana said the mil­i­tary is clos­ing in on Maute mil­i­tants and has nearly erad­i­cated them from the coun­try’s only Is­lamic city.

The mil­i­tants are now con­tained in a small ge­o­graph­i­cal area, he said.

“That’s why I’ve been told by our ground com­man­ders that (the bat­tle to re­take) Marawi is nearly over,” Loren­zana said.

The mil­i­tary has not set a dead­line for an end to the bat­tle, but as­sured that govern­ment troops are “do­ing their best” and that “only a lit­tle more pa­tience” is re­quired.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte ear­lier said that the Marawi con­flict had dragged on be­cause he op­posed a plan to bomb mosques that were oc­cu­pied by the en­emy. Duterte re­it­er­ated this on Friday.

“Look, if you are a pres­i­dent, you have a lot of things to con­sider. One is that the bat­tle of Marawi is a war against a group of peo­ple, ter­ror­ists; these are (Daesh) and the Mautes. It has never been an is­sue of re­li­gion,” Duterte stressed.

“If you bomb pur­posely to de­stroy, to force the sur­ren­der, you’d have in­flicted the pain on all Mus­lims. Now re­mem­ber, there are more than 2 mil­lion Filipinos work­ing in the Mid­dle East, most of them (in) Mus­lim states. You get my point?” he added.

“(If we bomb and de­stroy the mosques) we will not re­cover this, the love (of the Mus­lim peo­ple) … So I said look for an­other op­tion,” Duterte con­tin­ued, adding that he told the troops to crawl their way for­ward.

The pres­i­dent asked the troops to keep their calm and not be of­fended, adding: “Who doesn’t want this con­flict to end? But there’s a larger pic­ture at stake here.”

When asked if the govern­ment needs help from out­side — par­tic­u­larly in­tel­li­gence agen­cies of Malaysia and In­done­sia and equip­ment from US, Aus­tralia, and Ja­pan — the pres­i­dent said “it can help.”

With the Marawi con­flict nearly over, Loren­zana said the con­struc­tion of tran­si­tional shel­ter areas had started on Sept. 8.

A task force for the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of Marawi also met on Sept. 13 to dis­cuss the pro­vi­sion of wa­ter in the shel­ter areas.

Loren­zana said that more than $1 bil­lion was re­quired to re­build the war-torn Is­lamic City.

A post-con­flict as­sess­ment team went to Marawi last week, vis­it­ing areas al­ready cleared by the mil­i­tary.

For­eign as­sis­tance for the re­lief and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion ef­forts in Marawi con­tin­ues to pour in, in­clud­ing funds from Aus­tralia, the US, Ja­pan, Thai­land, China and the EU.

The Marawi cri­sis broke out on May 23 af­ter a failed at­tempt to cap­ture Is­nilon Hapi­lon, leader of the Daesh-af­fil­i­ated Abu Sayyaf group.

The armed con­flict has so far re­sulted in the death of 670 Maute mil­i­tants, 147 from the govern­ment side, and 47 civil­ians.

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