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Lanao del Sur villagers displaced by firefights between military, jihadists

John Unson - Philstar.com

MARAWI CITY, Philippines - Guns have been silent in the hinterlands of Butig, Lanao del Sur since noontime Monday, but the evacuation of villagers to neutral grounds continued for fear of  a repeat of the deadly firefights between soldiers and fanatical Moro jihadists.

There are now close to 2,000 evacuees in relief sites far from Butig’s adjoining Barangays Coloyan, Samer, Bayabao, Raya Timbab, Sandab and Ragayan, where Army combatants and religious extremists, led by Abdullah Maute, figured in a series of encounters in the past seven days.

Maute and his followers have been boasting of their “allegiance” to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

They displayed black ISIS flags as they moved from one barangay to another in Butig to mulct money from villagers and enforce a ruthless Taliban-style Sharia justice system.

Col. Roseller Murillo, commanding officer of the Army’ 103rd Brigade here, on Tuesday said members of the group have abandoned their positions after a series of encounters with pursuing soldiers.

“Our men are now positioned in the areas they abandoned,” Murillo said.

He said clearing operations would continue to ensure that Maute and his men are driven away from the barangays they tried to control despite strong opposition from community officials and Maranaw elders.

Two soldiers were killed while nine others were wounded in the week-long operation against the group.

“We have confirmation from sources on the ground, including barangay folks, that 37 terrorists were killed in the operation,” Murillo said.

Murillo said their operation against Maute and his followers was precipitated by their beheading of two Visayan captives they snatched near the town proper of Butig about two months ago and for destroying power relay pylons of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines using improvised bombs.

“Our efforts to neutralize this group were just overtaken by our election security duties. Now that the elections are over, we shall resume with our security mission to address these terrorists,” Murillo said.

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