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End of Marawi siege eyed on Independence Day as Maute further weakens

A Philippine soldier operated a checkpoint outside Marawi city in the southern Philippines, Thursday, June 8, 2017. Fighting in Marawi between government forces and Muslim militants, led by the so-called "Maute" group, is now in its third week with casualties on both sides and civilians rising close to 200 and displacing tens of thousands of residents. AP Photo/Aaron Favila

MANILA, Philippines — The Armed Forces announced gaining foothold in areas held by militants and is looking to free the besieged city of Marawi on June 12, a day marking Philippine independence from Spanish rule over a century ago.

"The world of the terrorists inside the city is growing smaller by the day," military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said in a press briefing Friday, the 18th day since Islamic militants plunged the lakeside town into chaos.

Close to 200 people have been killed in the unprecedented attack on the largely Muslim city with a population of over 200,000. Thousands have fled their homes and sought refuge in neighboring towns.

READ: In war-shaken Marawi City, civilians struggle to escape

An undetermined number of militants remain stubbornly lodged in the heart of Marawi but Padilla said there are indications that enemy resistance has dwindled.

"Some indications that I am at liberty to say is the volume of fire coming from the enemy side there was not as much as before. There are areas that so much enemy activity was monitored but now seems to have dwindled and sniper fire has been very selective to name a few," he said.

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READ: Some Maute militants may have exited Marawi, official says

Padilla said the military is "working feverishly" to realize the June 12 target. Whether martial law over Mindanao would also be lifted at the end of the siege was unknown as the decision does not fall upon the Armed Forces, the military spokesman said.

FACT CHECK: Inconsistencies in Duterte's martial law report

He also denied reports claiming that the man at the center of the violence in Marawi, Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, has already escaped the city. He said there is no proof for this claim.

READ: Military: No proof that Hapilon escaped Marawi

The gunbattle began last May 23 after government troops raided Hapilon's hideout in Marawi City. The Abu Sayyaf leader and his men called for reinforcement from its ally, the Maute. 

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon's capture while President Rodrigo Duterte offered P10 million, but he has proven to be elusive. He was wounded and suffered a stroke in a Philippine airstrike in January but got away. — with reports from AP

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