Marawi City, Philippines: A Philippines politician said on Thursday residents fleeing besieged Marawi City had seen scores of dead bodies in an area where intense fighting has taken place between security forces and Daesh-linked militants in the last three weeks.
“Dead bodies, at least 100, scattered around the encounter area,” Zia Alonto Adiong, a politician in the area who is helping in rescue and relief efforts, told reporters, referring to accounts he had received from fleeing residents.
The military said it could not confirm the report.
The army has said 290 people have been killed in the more than three weeks of fighting, including 206 militants, 58 soldiers and 26 civilians.
Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, a military spokesman, said troops were advancing towards the commercial centre of Marawi City, which is held by the militants who have sworn allegiance to Daesh.
“We intend to finish the fight as soon as possible. Our tactical commanders are doing their best,” Herrera said.
But troops still faced up to 200 fighters, many of whom had taken up sniper positions, he said.
“The battlefield is very fluid,” he said.
Maute brother arrested
Earlier, the military said it has arrested the brother of the top militant commanders leading them in the fight against the government.
The man, Mohammad Noaim Maute, alias Abu Jadid, was arrested at a checkpoint near the coastal city of Cagayan de Oro just after dawn, Herrera said.
Two of Mohammad’s brothers, Omarkhayam and Abdullah, lead the Maute gang that is at the forefront of the battle for Marawi City.
Meanwhile, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has withdrawn from public duties this week because he is tired and needs to “rejuvenate”, his spokesman said on Thursday as government forces battled militants in the biggest crisis of his rule.
Duterte, 72, has not been seen in public since Sunday and missed a scheduled appearance the following day at annual Independence Day celebrations in Manila, sparking speculation about the state of his health.
“He’s just taking some time off to rejuvenate,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
Abella said there was no date for when Duterte would resume his official duties, although he insisted the president was healthy.
'President is well'
“I’m saying that there’s nothing to worry about in terms of sickness,” he said.
“The president is well.”
Pressed by journalists to state whether Duterte had visited a doctor this week, Abella said: “I’m not privy to those matters but I’m sure he’s checked with his own experts.”
Duterte was last seen in the southern city of Cagayan de Oro, visiting soldiers wounded in nearby fighting with Daesh group-styled gunmen that is now on its fourth week.
Abella said Duterte was taking time off because of a punishing schedule since then, which included regular visits to military camps and hospitals to support troops.
“It has been really brutal, so it is important to allow him this kind of rest,” Abella said.
Duterte had repeatedly denied during last year’s presidential election campaign that he suffered from cancer.
However, he said last December that he used to take fentanyl, a highly addictive synthetic opioid, to ease the pain of a spinal injury that he suffered in motorcycle accidents many year earlier.
Duterte said then his doctor made him stop using it on learning he was “abusing the drug” by using more than the prescribed amount.
Duterte’s fentanyl comments attracted controversy as he has led a war on drugs in which thousands of addicts and users have been killed.
Under the 1987 Constitution, the separately elected vice-president shall act as president if the incumbent dies, is permanently disabled or removed from office.