Marawi war’s for­tu­nate re­turn to looted homes

Six months of bat­tles be­tween troops and Daesh have killed 1,100 peo­ple

Gulf News - - World -

Khalilud­din Es­mail re­turned home on Sun­day af­ter five months of war in the south­ern Philip­pines to find his house ran­sacked. But he’s still smil­ing.

“At least we have some­thing left,” he said, stand­ing in a room with clothes, toys, or­na­ments and dam­aged pic­tures strewn across the floor.

“Oth­ers have noth­ing. They lost their homes, they lost their lives.” Es­mail, 44, the Imam of a nearby mosque, con­sid­ers him­self one of the luck­i­est peo­ple in Marawi. The city was dev­as­tated by more than 150 days of bat­tles be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and pro-Daesh ter­ror­ists that killed more than 1,100 peo­ple and dis­placed some 350,000.

Six days af­ter troops killed the last re­main­ing rebels, Es­mail was among about 4,000 peo­ple al­lowed to re­turn to their homes on Sun­day in Marawi’s Basak Ma­lut­lot area.

Many like him have dis­cov­ered their houses were looted and left in dis­ar­ray.

Es­mail fled with his fam­ily on May 24 dur­ing a fierce three­day fire­fight that erupted just 50 me­tres away, when se­cu­rity forces tried to raid the hide­out of no­to­ri­ous mil­i­tant leader Is­nilon Hapi­lon, Daesh’s anointed “emir” in South­east Asia.

Hapi­lon es­caped, then is­sued a call to arms to hun­dreds of in­sur­gents to ini­ti­ate their planned takeover of Marawi. It sparked the Philip­pines’ big­gest ur­ban bat­tle in re­cent his­tory, and fears that Daesh’s ex­trem­ist agenda had gained a foothold in the south of the mainly Catholic coun­try.

Armed po­lice at check­points cross-checked doc­u­ments and pic­tures of each pas­sen­ger from the 712 fam­i­lies, to guard against pos­si­ble in­fil­tra­tion by mil­i­tants.

Ba­bies cried as of­fi­cials at a pub­lic hall shouted on mega­phones to try to es­tab­lish or­der as hun­dreds jos­tled to reg­is­ter for the sack of rice and 5,000 pe­sos ($97, Dh356) al­lo­cated to each house­hold.

With a stern face, the district’s el­derly chair­woman, Jamel­lah In­dol Saro, yelled in the lo­cal Maranao di­alect at anx­ious res­i­dents to calm down.

“I told them we have to thank Al­lah we’re still alive,” she said, smil­ing.

Some 6,500 fam­i­lies are due to re­turn this week in a phased repa­tri­a­tion, a frac­tion of the 77,000 that fled to evac­u­a­tion camps or nearby towns. Many face a lengthy wait for vast swathes of Marawi to be re­built.

Re­tired gov­ern­ment em­ployee Mi­tor­mar Gol­ing, 72, came home to find jew­ellery, money, fur­ni­ture and an­tiques had been stolen. He said he feared he would have starved or been killed had he stayed be­hind.

Norida Manna’s three-storey house was lev­elled by an air strike, but she’s thank­ful she’s alive. [“My home was de­stroyed, but I don’t blame the mil­i­tary. They had a job to do,” she said.

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