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Troops attack rebel positions in renewed push vs Maute

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star
Troops attack rebel positions in renewed push vs Maute

The offensive came amid worry that reinforcements for the Maute gunmen could arrive after Eid al-Fitr on Monday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. AP/Bullit Marquez, FIle

MANILA, Philippines - Government troops yesterday attacked rebel positions as they launched a renewed push against Maute militants still holed up in some areas of Marawi City.

The offensive came amid worry that reinforcements for the Maute gunmen could arrive after Eid al-Fitr on Monday, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Fighting in Marawi City has entered its fifth week, with 349 militants, 65 soldiers and 26 civilians killed, according to an official count.

Fleeing residents have said they have seen scores of bodies among the debris of homes destroyed by bombing and crossfire.a

Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the military has no deadline to end the fighting.

“We are doing our best to expedite the liberation of Marawi at the soonest time possible. There’s no deadline,” Padilla said.

“We cannot definitely say when we could end this because we are fighting door to door and there are booby traps which pose danger to our troops,” he said.

Security forces originally sought to finish the operations against the Maute militants last June 2, but stiff resistance and the presence of trapped civilians prevented them.

On June 4, President Duterte said the crisis may be finished in “about three days” but the fighting persisted.

Last week, the military said it would seek to liberate the strife-torn city by June 12, the 119th anniversary of Philippine independence, but the goal was not met. 

Padilla, however, stressed the troops are being careful to avoid civilian casualties and unnecessary damage to property in flushing out the militants from their defensive positions.

“Our clearing operations are continuing against the remaining armed terrorists that continue to pose pockets of resistance against our advancing troops,” he said.

Padilla said troops have so far cleared 16 strong points earlier occupied by the Maute terrorists.

He said the troops are now focused on recapturing four more strategic strongholds of the militants.

“Enemy resistance is waning and the enemy held areas continue to diminish as government security forces, going deeper into enemy held positions, press their advance,” Padilla said.

Authorities, on the other hand, have started securing abandoned houses and establishments in Marawi City that soldiers have cleared of terrorists.

“The gates of residential compounds and the doors of houses and establishments in areas subjected to the security mission were shut after thorough inspection by officials supervising the operation,” provincial spokesperson Salma Jayne Tamano said.

“The intention is to protect whatever belongings of the owners of these abandoned houses and establishments are left. Full protection cannot be absolutely guaranteed but somehow this (could) help,” Tamano said.

Local officials said the police joined the military in securing the buildings and houses to secure whatever is left after the militants had looted and ransacked the properties.

Going along with the ground assault is a separate rescue effort on civilians still trapped within the conflict zones, as well as to retrieve the bodies of dead civilians and gunmen.

Local officials claimed more than 500 bodies of civilians or gunmen killed in the clashes are still in the battle zone, rotting on the streets and inside abandoned buildings and houses in the city. – With John Unson, Reuters

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