Marawi city liberated as battle goes on

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared the southern city of Marawi liberated from pro-IS militants on Tuesday, although the military said 20-30 rebels were holding about 20 hostages and still fighting it out.
In a rousing address to soldiers a day after the killing of two commanders of the rebel alliance, Duterte said he would never again allow militants to stockpile so many weapons, but Marawi was now free and it was time to heal wounds and rebuild.
“I hereby declare Marawi City liberated from terrorist influence, that marks the beginning of rehabilitation,” Duterte, wearing a camouflage cap and dark sunglasses, said during his unannounced visit.
Isnilon Hapilon, who was wanted by the United States and was IS’s Southeast Asian “emir”, and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two brothers central to the alliance, were killed in a targeted operation on Monday. Their bodies were recovered and identified, authorities said.
The 148-day occupation marked the Philippines’ biggest security crisis in years and triggered concerns that with its mountains, jungles and porous borders, the island of Mindanao could become a magnet for IS fighters driven out of Iraq and Syria.
More than 1,000 people, mostly rebels, were killed in the battle and the heart of the city of 200,000 has been levelled by air strikes.
Duterte said the liberation was not a cause for celebration and later apologised to the people of Marawi for the destruction. “We had to do it,” he said. “There was no alternative.”
Armed forces chief Eduardo Ano said the remaining gunmen were now a “law enforcement matter”, while military spokesman Restituto Padilla described them as “stragglers”.
“There is no way that they can get out anymore, there is no way for anyone to get in,” Padilla said.
Padilla said the military believed Malaysian operative Mahmud Ahmad was in Marawi, but it could not be certain. He said Mahmud was no threat.
Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who estimated Marawi operations to have cost 5 billion pesos ($97.5 million), said reconstruction could start in January. — Reuters