Cease­fire fails to free Filipinos from be­sieged city

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD -

MARAWI CITY: Thou­sands of civil­ians hop­ing to flee fight­ing in the be­sieged Philip­pines city of Marawi re­mained trapped yes­ter­day af­ter a four-hour cease­fire to evac­u­ate res­i­dents was marred by gun­fire.

Only 134 were freed yes­ter­day, fewer than on pre­vi­ous days, de­spite gov­ern­ment hopes that more than 1 000 would be able to leave a city battered by 13 days of in­tense fight­ing.

Philip­pines Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte pre­dicted the siege would be over within days de­spite fierce re­sis­tance by fight­ers aligned to Is­lamic State in the dense urban heart of the south­ern Philip­pines city.

“This will be over in about three more days,” Duterte said on Satur­day af­ter vis­it­ing a hospi­tal in Ca­gayan de Oro where wounded sol­diers were be­ing treated. “I will not hes­i­tate to use ev­ery power avail­able.”

About 400 local mil­i­tants re­in­forced by about 40 for­eign fight­ers stormed Marawi on May 23, us­ing so­phis­ti­cated bat­tle­field tac­tics to take con­trol of large swaths of the lake­side city.

They have been pushed back to the city cen­tre by Philip­pines forces over the past week af­ter some 4 000 ground troops were bol­stered by he­li­copters and air­craft de­ploy­ing rock­ets and bombs.

Many res­i­dents have said the airstrikes caused ex­ten­sive prop­erty damage and dozens of civil­ian deaths. Au­thor­i­ties lifted the civil­ian death toll from 20 to 38 yes­ter­day – but said all those deaths were caused by mil­i­tants. A pres­i­den­tial spokesman said 120 mil­i­tants had died, along with 38 gov­ern­ment forces.

Duterte said the use of air power had been re­strained so far. “I can end this war in 24 hours,” he said. “All I have to do is to bomb the whole place and level it to the ground.”

Duterte has asked the Moro Is­lamic Lib­er­a­tion Front, an Is­lamic sep­a­ratist move­ment based on the Philip­pines is­land of Min­danao, to help ne­go­ti­ate a peace set­tle­ment with the Is­lamist fight­ers, who are pre­dom­i­nantly drawn from the Maute Group based in and around Marawi.

Marawi, dubbed the “Is­lamic City of Marawi”, is also lo­cated on Min­danao, which has a large Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion in a pre­dom­i­nantly Catholic coun­try.

Marawi City’s mayor Ma­jul Gan­damra said he was ex­pect­ing “more or less 1 000 plus to be res­cued to­day (yes­ter­day)”. In the end, 134 were evac­u­ated, fewer than pre­vi­ous days when there were no cease­fires. About 2 000 civil­ians re­main in the city.

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

Res­cue teams wait at a po­lice check­point af­ter gun­bat­tles broke a cease­fire and pre­vented a mass evac­u­a­tion of civil­ians in Marawi City, Philip­pines, yes­ter­day.

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