Monday, June 5, 2017

Gunfire during ceasefire stops civilians fleeing fighting in Philippines

Thousands remain trapped in city of Marawi after 13 days of fighting between Isis-linked militants and government forces
 People carry their belongings in Marawi as they attempt to flee along a deserted street. Photograph: Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images
 Duterte visits a hospital in Cagayan de Oro. Photograph: Presidential Photographers Division/Handout/EPA

Reuters in Marawi-Sunday 4 June 2017 
Thousands of civilians hoping to flee fighting in the Philippine city of Marawi remained trapped on Sunday after a four-hour ceasefire to evacuate residents was marred by gunfire.
Only 134 were freed on Sunday, despite government hopes that more than 1,000 would be able to leave a city battered by 13 days of intense fighting.
The president, Rodrigo Duterte, predicted the siege would be over within days despite fierce resistance by fighters aligned to Islamic State in the dense urban heart of the southern Philippine city.
“This will be over in about three more days,” Duterte said on Saturday after visiting a hospital in Cagayan de Oro where wounded soldiers were being treated. “I will not hesitate to use every power available.”
About 400 local militants reinforced by about 40 foreign fighters stormed Marawi on 23 May, using sophisticated battlefield tactics to take control of large swaths of the lakeside city.
They have been pushed back to the city centre by Philippine forces over the past week after about 4,000 ground troops were bolstered by helicopters and aircraft deploying rockets and bombs.
Many residents have said the airstrikes caused extensive property damage and dozens of civilian deaths. Authorities raised the civilian death toll from 20 to 38 on Sunday – but said all those fatalities were caused by militants.
A presidential spokesman said 120 militants had died, along with 38 government forces.
Duterte said the use of air power had been restrained so far. “I can end this war in 24 hours,” he said. “All I have to do is to bomb the whole place and level it to the ground.”
Duterte has asked the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, an Islamic separatist movement based on the Philippine island of Mindanao, to help negotiate a peace settlement with the Islamist fighters, who are predominantly drawn from the Maute group based in and around Marawi.
Marawi, known as the “Islamic city of Marawi”, is also on Mindanao, which has a large Muslim population in a predominantly Catholic country and has been destabilised by separatist insurgencies for decades.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front cadres organised Sunday’s ceasefire, which was to run until noon. They used loud hailers to urge residents to leave, but by 9am, gunfire had broken out, apparently deterring residents from joining a mass exodus.
Marawi’s mayor, Majul Gandamra, told reporters on Sunday morning he was expecting “more or less 1,000-plus to be rescued today”. In the end, 134 were evacuated, fewer than on previous days when there were no ceasefires. About 2,000 civilians remain in the city.
Irene Santiago, appointed by Duterte to organise the “peace corridor”, said the effort had been a success, noting that the fighting was several kilometres away from where the evacuation took place.
She said negotiations were continuing with the Maute for another temporary ceasefire on Monday.