Ceasefire fails to free Filipinos from besieged city
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.
Rescue teams wait at a police checkpoint after gunbattles broke a ceasefire and prevented a mass evacuation of civilians in Marawi City, Philippines, yesterday.