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End of Maute threat in Marawi 'almost there'
The end of the threat posed by the Maute group in Marawi is "almost there," the military said Monday, as it maintained that it still has full control of the city.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said no deadline has been set on defeating the Maute forces but efforts are underway to speed up flushing out of the terrorists from the city.
"Although we do not have a timeline, but we're seeking to end this as soon as possible. Our ground commanders have assured that the end is almost there," Padilla said in a press conference in Malacañang.
Padilla said government forces are conducting clearing operations in areas occupied by the militants.
"What we are trying to do right now – and it's a commitment – is to expedite what needs to be done in order to restore law and order and normalcy in the whole of Mindanao, particularly Marawi," he added.
The Maute group, which the government now says has ties to the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS), raided Marawi City last Tuesday, burning several buildings including a cathedral and holding several civilians hostage.
Clashes ensued after security forces raided a house believed to be the hiding place of Isnilon Hapilon, an Abu Sayyaf leader and wanted terrorist who is allegedly the leader of IS in the Philippines.
The violent incidents prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to place the entire island of Mindanao under martial law and to cut short his four-day official visit to Russia. The president has vowed to be harsh in dealing with the Maute terrorists, whom he claims tried to take over Mindanao to set up a caliphate.
'Gov't in control of Marawi, except for some parts'
Padilla claimed that government forces still have full control of Marawi "except for certain areas of the city."
"We have complete control of the city, by the way, contrary to what is coming out in social media and other information, perhaps some fake news," the military spokesman said.
"It is not true that half of the city is controlled by the rebels. Totally untrue. The armed forces and the police and all our forces are in complete control of the city, except for certain areas of the city where they continue to hold," he added.
Padilla said the military has full control of the city since it can "control who comes in and who comes out, who moves around and who doesn't."
The clearing operations also required the conduct of air raids, he added.
"In the aspect of the operations that we are conducting, it may seem that these are big activities but there was a need to do surgical airstrikes because of strategically in place enemy presence," Padilla said.
"If we do not employ combat power as we needed it and so it fit, we would prolong the clearing process and we would endanger more lives, both civilian and military."
Official data showed that 61 Maute militants, 15 soldiers, three policemen and 19 civilians have been killed in clashes in Marawi City as of 6 p.m. of Sunday. A total of 61 soldiers and three policemen have been injured while 390 civilians have been rescued.
Padilla could not say how many terrorists are still in Marawi, noting that the situation in the area is very fluid.
"The restoration of law and order is one of the most important consideration, along with any remnants of resistance within the city," the military spokesman said.
"In the absence of any more resistance, there is no reason to have our presence there but just to keep the security and we will transfer the control of the city to our civil authorities. But we will work closely with them to ensure that the security of the city is not compromised," he added.
Asked if the military would recommend the extension of martial law in Mindanao after 60 days, Padilla said: "We're just starting martial law. We're just on the second week so I cannot, as of this moment, give you an assessment on the need for its extension."
"But be that as it may, the commitment remains that to do this as quick as possible, just like what the president said. And if we can finish this in one month, then so be it. We end martial law right there and then," he added.
'Hapilon still alive'
Padilla said Hapilon, the target of the government forces' operations last week, is still alive.
"We have information and we believe that he (Hapilon) is still there and this may be the reason why the resistance in some areas are strong," the military spokesman said.
There is also no clear evidence that the Maute group is receiving foreign funding, he added.
"As to the links of foreign funding for the group, we don't have any clear evidence and that was the subject of the investigation that was conducted right after the two foreign nationals that were reported to us, a Syrian and a Kuwaiti national. This was the subject of the investigation related to that," Padilla said
"And there were some findings but I'm not at liberty to discuss and reveal those, which involve some transfer of funds. But I'm not sure how much this is and how long this has been ongoing," he added.
Padilla was referring to Kuwaiti national Husayn Al-Dhafiri and Syrian national Rahaf Zina, suspected IS members who were nabbed in Taguig City last March.
Padilla urged the public to cooperate with authorities so that the situation in affected areas could return to normal as soon as possible.
[Source: By Alexis Romero, Philstar, Manila, 29May17]
Islamic paramilitary organizations
|This document has been published on 30May17 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|