AFP as­sures Marawi strag­glers won’t be able to es­cape main bat­tle area

Sun.Star Pampanga - - NATION! -

THE Armed Forces of the Philip­pines (AFP) on Fri­day gave as­sur­ance to the pub­lic that Maute group strag­glers in­side Marawi City’s main bat­tle area would not be able to sneak out.

AFP spokesper­son Ma­jor Gen­eral Resti­tuto Padilla Jr. said the mil­i­tary con­tin­ues to con­duct “de­lib­er­ate and care­ful” clear­ing op­er­a­tions in at least three fa­cil­i­ties, where re­main­ing ex­trem­ists were be­lieved to be hid­ing.

Padilla, cit­ing in­for­ma­tion from nabbed In­done­sian mil­i­tant Muham­mad Il­ham Sya­pu­tra, said around 36 ter­ror­ists were still holed up in the strife-torn city.

“The main bat­tle area, where most of the very heavy fight­ing oc­curred in the last few weeks, prior to the lib­er­a­tion and the ces­sa­tion of com­bat op­er­a­tions, still har­bors a num­ber of strag­glers,” the mil­i­tary spokesman told Palace re­porters.

“The risks are still there. We don’t have the ex­act num­bers [of strag­glers] but based on the rev­e­la­tion of this last for­eign na­tional [who] was cap­tured, he men­tioned about 36. But we are still val­i­dat­ing that num­ber be­cause there are about three build­ings here that seemed to house them. That’s on the process of be­ing checked,” he added.

The Marawi siege erupted on May 23 when se­cu­rity forces tried to serve ar­rest war­rants against Is­nilon Hapi­lon, Abu Sayyaf leader and pur­ported emir of Is­lamic State (IS) in Southeast Asia.

Hapi­lon, how­ever, forged al­liance with the IS-backed Maute group led by Omar and Ab­dul­lah Maute and oc­cu­pied the city the same day the op­er­a­tion against him was car­ried out by state forces.

On Oc­to­ber 17, Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte de­clared the lib­er­a­tion of Marawi City fol­low­ing the deaths of Hapi­lon and Omar Maute.

De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana, on Oc­to­ber 23, an­nounced the end of war in Marawi, which claimed the lives of over 1,000 peo­ple.

On Fri­day, Padilla al­layed pub­lic's con­cerns over the re­ported pres­ence of some Is­lamist fighters in the be­sieged city de­spite the end of fight­ing, say­ing the Marawi strag­glers were “lead­er­less” who were merely “fight­ing for their sur­vival.”

He also as­sured that the mil­i­tary im­posed stiffer se­cu­rity mea­sures to en­sure that no ex­trem­ist could es­cape.

“The dec­la­ra­tion of lib­er­a­tion [was made when the en­e­mies’ threat] al­ready has no bear­ing. The re­main­ing strag­glers, they are lead­er­less, they have no di­rec­tion, they are merely fight­ing for sur­vival. So they have no im­pact on the over-all se­cu­rity of the place,” Padilla said.

“The rea­son why we are try­ing to re­strict that area is to en­sure that not one of these ter­ror­ists may be able to es­cape be­cause one ter­ror­ist who is able to es­cape has the po­ten­tial of in­flict­ing harm on many of our na­tion­als,” he added.

Amid threats posed by less than 50 ex­trem­ists in Marawi City, Padilla said only around 16 of 96 vil­lages in the city could not be oc­cu­pied yet by dis­placed res­i­dents to en­sure their safety.

Padilla ap­pealed to the re­main­ing lo­cal and for­eign fighters in the city to sur­ren­der to au­thor­i­ties as he warned them that the govern­ment troops would not stop their clear­ing op­er­a­tions un­til the city is free from “ev­ery sin­gle ter­ror­ist.”

“Our forces re­main on the alert, re­main vig­i­lant, and will con­tinue to per­form the clear­ing op­er­a­tions un­til such time that we can guar­an­tee that this place, the last parts where the bat­tle has raged in the last few weeks, is al­ready free of ev­ery sin­gle ter­ror­ist,” he said.

( Ruth Abbey Gita/SunS­tar Philip­pines)

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