Manila: Officials issued a warning to residents of Marawi City planning to return home saying it is still too dangerous for them to enter the area, which is still considered a combat zone.
Presidential Spokesperson Ernie Abella, in a statement issued on Sunday, said that while the government “understands the sentiments of residents of Marawi City wanting to return home after being forced to flee from the city … The government, however, is concerned with the safety and welfare of all civilians especially the women and children.”
Earlier, residents who referred to themselves as “Occupy Marawi”, announced plans to return to the city despite obvious dangers.
Fifty-five days since the fighting broke out between government forces and combined forces of the Maute and Abu Sayyaf joined by foreign volunteer fighters rallying under the black flag of Daesh, the intensity of combat had lessened but nevertheless just as dangerous to combatants and civilians.
“There is no assurance that areas outside the main battle zone are already safe to reside and live in, as incidents of cases of stray bullet victims have been reported,” Abelle said.
Quoting armed forces officials, he said that the combat zone is yet to be cleared for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), booby traps, unexploded ordnances and other kinds of explosives.
“For the safety of everyone, it is better to just wait for the end of hostilities and the completion of clearing operations,” he said.
According to Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesperson for Task Force Marawi, fighting continues in certain sections of the city while air and ground attacks by the government continue to in an effort to dislodge the extremist fighters from buildings where they carry out their harassment operations.
Extremist snipers continue deliver accurate fire from their vantage positions and continue to deny total dominance by government forces.
The extremists are also believed to still be holding a number of hostages including Father Chito Soganob and other captives taken from the Saint Mary Cathedral.
Herrera said government forces have killed 405 militants as of Sunday while the armed forces and police had sustained 95 fatalities and dozens of injured.
Although there are still pockets of resistance, the government will be implementing a massive effort to rehabilitate Marawi City through the several billion pesos, multi-year, “Bangon (Arise) Marawi” programme.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chief peace negotiator with the government, was quoted by the daily “Mindanews” as saying that a key to ending the fighting is to deny the militants the capability to resupply its forces.
“If that is achieved, the militants will only be left with the will to fight. In war, that alone cannot take you far,” he said, adding that the conflict had degenerated into a war of attrition.
He said that it would only be a matter of time before the Maute and its Abu Sayyaf allies give up the fight.
“Without a clear political agenda, it is difficult to generate a horde of volunteers who will fight to the death in battle,” he said.
Some of the Maute gunmen fighting in Marawi City were former members of the MILF.