Troops hold span, hope to save cap­tives

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL -

MANILA, Philip­pines — Philip­pine troops cap­tured a key bridge lead­ing to the main po­si­tion of Is­lamic State group-linked mil­i­tants in the south­ern city of Marawi, but won’t stage a ma­jor as­sault and will in­stead press ef­forts to res­cue civil­ian hostages, an of­fi­cial said Mon­day.

Gov­ern­ment troops gained con­trol last week of Ma­pandi bridge, which leads to Marawi’s in­te­rior busi­ness district, where just 40 to 60 re­main­ing mil­i­tants are be­lieved to be hold­ing 80 to 100 hostages, mostly in a large mosque, said mil­i­tary spokesman Brig. Gen. Resti­tuto Padilla. But a ma­jor as­sault isn’t im­mi­nent, he said.

“We now have di­rect ac­cess to ground zero,” Padilla said at a news con­fer­ence in Manila, re­fer­ring to the bridge over Marawi’s Agus River that can now be used to rapidly trans­port troops and com­bat sup­plies. “Our main ob­jec­tive is to res­cue the hostages.”

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte has or­dered troops to en­sure the safety of the hostages and not launch an as­sault that could en­dan­ger the cap­tives even if that pro­longs the mil­i­tant siege, which has al­ready dragged on for more than two months. More than 650 peo­ple have died in the vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing 45 civil­ians.

Defense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana ex­pressed fears Mon­day that the mil­i­tants, who have been us­ing their hostages as hu­man shields, will force some of the cap­tives to serve as sui­cide bombers.

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