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'Surrender to spare civilians from harm'

The government on Tuesday urged Maute group terrorists occupying parts of the city to surrender for the sake of trapped civilians, as attack helicopters pounded the gunmen's strongholds with rockets.

More than 100 people have been confirmed killed in the fighting, which began on Tuesday last week when gunmen waving black flags of the Islamic State group rampaged through the mostly Muslim-populated city of Marawi.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law across the entire island of Mindanao, home to roughly 20 million people, in response to the crisis as he warned that local militant groups were uniting behind IS and becoming a major security threat.

But the militants, initially estimated by the Defense chief to number just 100, have withstood eight days of intense air assaults and street-to-street combat, prompting the government's surrender calls on Tuesday.

"We are giving those inside an opportunity to surrender. There is still a chance to lay down your arms," military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said on dzBB radio.

"If you do that, it will be better so no one else will be dragged into this, no more buildings will be destroyed."

Asked why the government had issued a surrender call, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said: "To lessen the damage on the ground, definitely so the civilians will be less affected."

Up to 2,000 residents are trapped in areas held by the militants, according to the local government, and the International Committee of the Red Cross has voiced alarm that they will be caught in the bombing raids or crossfire.

The militants also took a priest and up to 14 other people hostage at the start of the crisis, and their fate remains unknown.

Helicopters fired rockets on a pocket of the city held by the militants throughout Tuesday morning, and black smoke rose from the buildings that were apparently hit, according to an Agence France-Presse reporter in Marawi.

The gunmen are being backed by foreign fighters, including Malaysians, Indonesians and Singaporeans, authorities have said.

The violence began when dozens of gunmen went on the rampage in response to an attempt by security forces to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, a senior member of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group and regarded as the local leader of IS.

Hapilon is on the US government's list of most-wanted terrorists.

He was being protected in Marawi by the local Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to IS.

More than 100 inmates of two Marawi jails escaped at the start of the conflict. The military said some of the escapees may have joined the fighting.

Padilla said that the Maute group members would be treated well if they surrendered.

Abella reported that at least 65 members of the Maute group have been killed since the terrorists launched an attack in Marawi City on May 23, with 42 people confirmed by body count and 23 others confirmed by eye witness accounts.

Some 19 civilians have been confirmed killed by the Maute group while 560 others were rescued from the ongoing siege. Twenty members of the government's forces deployed in the city have also been killed–17 of them soldiers and three of them policemen. Some 72 soldiers and policemen have been wounded.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Tuesday designated Justice Undersecretary Reynante Orceo to coordinate efforts with Mindanao prosecutors who are handling cases against members of the Maute terrorist group.

Aguirre said Orceo went to Iligan City Monday where he met with the local prosecutors.

Aguirre said the immediate concern is the inquest of Maute members arrested by security forces in their ongoing operation in Marawi.

The Justice secretary said that the military and the police earlier asked for assistance on what to do with Maute members who might be arrested during the ongoing operation since they only have 72 hours within which to act, especially if there is detention without any warrant of arrest.

"The military and the police asked us to assign at least two prosecutors for the affected areas though it is difficult unless the inquest is held inside military facilities for the safety of our prosecutors," he said.

He said the Department of Justice is now considering holding the inquest in areas outside of Mindanao.

Earlier, Aguirre said they are considering the creation of special courts that will handle the cases against the Maute members.

He also said it would be best if the cases be handled by courts outside of Mindanao, though Aguirre said they would consult with the Supreme Court on the matter.

Aguirre said the department is also helping to fine-tune the implementing rules and regulation on martial law, which has been declared over Mindanao.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno last week directed all courts in Mindanao to remain open following the President's decision to place the entire region under martial law.

Sereno also ordered all Mindanao judges to report "their current and continuing status to the Office of the Court Administrator through their executive judges."

The OCA, which is currently headed by Jose Midas Marquez, exercises supervision over all courts, judges and personnel nationwide.

[Source: By AFP and Rey E. Requejo, John Paolo Bencito, Manila Standard, Marawi, 31May17]

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small logoThis document has been published on 31May17 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.