Philippine army moves to flush out insurgents

MARAWI CITY: The death toll in a battle over a southern Philippine city besieged by militants has reached nearly 100, including 19 civilians, the military and police said on Sunday.
Sixty-one of the dead were militants who have laid siege to the city of Marawi, 800 kilometres south of Manila, since Tuesday, according to army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera.
“We have prepositioned enough forces to constrict their area and the offensive is continuing,” he said.
“They can run but they can’t hide. It’s just a matter of time,” he told reporters.
Just one kilometre away from the compound, marines backed by a tank patrolled deserted streets to check for the presence of gunmen, knocking on houses and throwing grenades at suspicious locations.
The army also fired rockets and bullets into suspected hideouts of the militants.
Clashes in the area have left 13 soldiers and four police officers dead, the military said.
Among the 19 civilians killed, eight were men believed to have been killed on Sunday morning and
then thrown into a ravine along a highway, just 200 metres away from a military checkpoint in the city, police said.
“The hands of some of the victims were tied behind their backs, and most of them were shot in the head,” police officer Jamael Mangadang, team leader of a security task force, told reporters on the roadside, where blood was splattered.
At least one body had a cardboard sign on his chest with the word monafiq, which means traitor.
Troops also recovered the bodies of three women, four men and one child near a state university in Marawi on Saturday, Brigadier General Restituto Padilla said.
The civilians were “mercilessly killed by the terrorists,” he said. “This development validates a series of reports of atrocities committed by the militants earlier. We are still validating other reports of atrocities by militants.“
More than 2,200 people are estimated to be trapped in the conflict zone in Marawi, fearing for their lives from threats of militants and military air strikes.
Residents have been sending appeals for help via text message, but rescue teams have not been able to penetrate the districts where they are located, said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the local province of Lanao Del Sur.
“The number is still continuing to rise,” Adiong said. “They are asking for help to extract them or send relief goods.”
Adiong said local officials were seeking clearance from the military to send rescue teams to 25 districts where the trapped residents were located.
To those trapped, he said: “Go to the safest areas of your houses, lock your doors, do not let anyone enter your homes and wait for us.”
Herrera urged residents to put up white flags outside their homes so that troops clearing the area would know that they are not enemies.
“These terrorists have been hiding in some houses, they loot and destroy these properties,” he said. “We are telling people to put up white flags to identify who are foes and who are friendly.”
Some civilians have also put up white flags on their vehicles.
— dpa