Manila: The death toll in a war-torn southern Philippine city has reached more than 500, almost two months after it was attacked by four Filipino-Muslim terror groups on May 23, a military spokesperson said.
A total of 537, including 399 Islamic militants, 93 government forces, and 45 civilians were killed since then, said Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Brig-Gen Restituto Padilla.
Ground troops have cleared a total of 15 buildings that were earlier manned by militants. There are 800 buildings in Marawi City’s business district, Padilla said.
The military has also re-occupied the last four villages that were held by four terror groups — they were led by the 28-year-old Abu Sasyyaf Group, and the four-year-old Maute Group whose members live in Butig, Marawi City, said Padilla.
The terror groups initially held 19 of 96 villages in Marawi City.
A total of 1,723 civilian hostages have been rescued, and 502 firearms seized, said Padilla, adding that more than 400,000 residents were displaced, 200,000 of whom were from marawi City, and the rest from nearby affected provinces.
The good news does not mean that President Rodrigo Duterte will lift the 60-day martial law that he declared on all of Mindanao, in the south, said Philippine National Police (PNP) head Ronald dela Rosa.
“Martial law must be extended to help fast track the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City,” said dela Rosa.
The military and the police will recommend to President Duterte to extend the martial law in Mindanao, said AFP Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año.
Duterte’s 60-day martial law will lapse on July 22.
Duterte said that martial law must be declared to prevent terror groups from attacking other provinces and cities in the south, including other nearby parts of Southeast Asia’s Indonesia and Malaysia.
The conflict started when government soldiers tried to issue a warrant of arrest to Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon — he was then being elected in an apartment in Marawi City as the leader of Daesh’s branch in the southern Philippines on May 23.