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Posts tagged ‘United Islands of the Philippines’

Philippine troops declare 8-hour cease-fire in besieged city

June 25, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine military on Sunday began observing an eight-hour halt in its air and ground offensive against Islamic militants in southern Marawi city to allow residents, most of them displaced by the monthlong fighting, to celebrate the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the “humanitarian pause” in military assaults took effect at 6 a.m. Sunday in predominantly Muslim Marawi but will be lifted immediately if the militants open fire or threaten troops and civilians.

“If the enemy starts firing … anyone can exercise their right to self-defense,” Padilla said in a statement. It’s the first planned respite in the massive offensive after a month of daily street battles and military airstrikes that have left at least 280 militants, 69 soldiers and police, and 26 civilians dead. The intense fighting has turned large swaths of the mosque-dotted city, a bastion of Islamic faith in the south of the largely Roman Catholic nation, into a smoldering war zone.

About 500 gunmen aligned with the Islamic State group, including several foreigners, stormed the lakeside city of 200,000 people, occupied buildings, burned schools and hoisted IS-style black flags on May 23.

Faced by his worst crisis, President Rodrigo Duterte responded by declaring martial law in the south and ordering a massive offensive. Padilla said the cease-fire will be observed by the military “as a gesture of our strong commitment and respect to the Muslim world,” particularly to Marawi’s Muslim residents.

The fighting has forced more than 300,000 people to abandon their homes in Marawi and outlying towns and flee to evacuation centers, which rapidly became overcrowded, making it difficult for them to celebrate the Eid el-Fitr holiday.

Philippines says it learned of city siege plans in advance

June 14, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — The Philippine government learned days in advance of a plan by militants aligned with the Islamic State group to lay siege to a southern city and staged an army raid on a militant hideout that prevented a bigger and deadlier attack, officials said Tuesday.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said in a report that the government received intelligence information at least five days before the militants prematurely launched their bloody assault on Marawi city on May 23 after government forces raided the hideout of militant leaders led by Isnilon Hapilon.

Army troops failed to capture Hapilon in the raid, which sparked a gunbattle in a Marawi village, but military officials said the assault forced the gunmen to prematurely start their attack aimed at occupying the Islamic city of more than 200,000 people. The rebel plan was to launch the attack on May 26 or 27, the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in the country’s south.

“Specifically, on 18 May 2017, intelligence reports revealed that the ISIS-inspired local rebel groups were planning to occupy Marawi city, and to raise the ISIS flag at the provincial capitol,” Calida said in a report to the Supreme Court, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

“The said attack would have served as the precursor for other rebel groups to stage their own uprisings across Mindanao in a bid to simultaneously establish a wilayah in the region,” Calida said, referring to the southern Philippine region and the Islamic State province the militants aimed to create there.

Calida defended President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to declare martial law in the entire southern Mindanao region to deal with the Marawi crisis. Opponents have questioned the grounds cited by Duterte for the martial law declaration and asked the Supreme Court to invalidate his action.

Asked why the government failed to stop the Marawi siege despite its advance knowledge of the plot, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the intelligence information was still being vetted, but the military nevertheless planned a raid on the hideout of Hapilon and other militants behind the plot.

“From our point of view, we were able to stop something that could have been much, much bigger,” Abella told a news conference. Abella was also asked why top security officials led by Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. joined Duterte in a trip to Russia around the time the government received information about the planned Marawi attack. “They were all on top of the situation. They were actually monitoring everything,” Abella said.

When the military managed to verify some of the details of the plot, it staged the raid on Hapilon’s hideout, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. He acknowledged, however, that the military was unaware of the number of armed fighters the plotters could muster.

In his report, Calida said “about 500 rebels marched along the main streets of Marawi and swiftly occupied strategic positions throughout the city” on May 23, adding that the gunmen had “strong combat capability, and seemingly limitless firepower and other resources.”

Army Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, a regional military commander, said 150 to 200 gunmen have been isolated in four of Marawi’s 96 villages, and dozens of militant snipers have been killed, setting back the militants’ lethal firepower three weeks after the bloody siege began.

With the remaining gunmen contained in just a few villages, Padilla said “the worst is over” in Marawi, but added that it was difficult to say when the government could regain full control of the devastated city.

Perched on buildings, some connected by tunnels that gave them mobility, the snipers have made it difficult for troops to wrest back areas under the rebels’ control. The gunmen have also used civilian hostages as human shields, Galvez said.

Philippine officials say 191 militants, 58 soldiers and policemen and 26 civilians have been killed in the three weeks of clashes.

13 Philippine marines killed in fighting with militants

June 10, 2017

ILIGAN, Philippines (AP) — Thirteen Philippine marines were killed in fierce fighting with Muslim militants who have laid siege to southern Marawi city for nearly a month in the biggest single-day loss for government forces, the military said Saturday.

The marines were conducting a house-to-house search for militants allied with the Islamic State group who are still occupying parts of Marawi when the battle erupted Friday, said Lt. Col. Jo-ar Herrera, spokesman for the Philippine army’s 1st Infantry Division.

He said that about 30-40 militants used civilians as human shields, making it hard for troops to operate, and also positioned themselves in the city’s many mosques. Forty other marines were wounded, he said.

The government had earlier said that the unrest had left 20 civilians, 134 militants and 39 government troops dead. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled the city, parts of which were reduced to rubble by fighting and government airstrikes in an attempt to dislodge the rebels.

“This temporary setback has not diminished our resolve a bit,” said military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo. “It instead primed up our determination to continue our prudent advances to neutralize the enemy, save the innocent lives trapped in the fight, and set the conditions for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines and home to a decades-long Muslim separatist rebellion.

Philippine airstrike kills 11 soldiers in besieged city

June 01, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — A Philippine bomber plane accidentally killed 11 soldiers and injured seven others, security officials said Thursday, as troops struggled to end a bloody siege by 500 Islamic State group-aligned extremists in a southern city, one of the boldest militant attacks in Southeast Asia in years.

The plane was making a bombing run over militant positions in Marawi city on Wednesday when one bomb accidentally hit army troops locked in close battle with extremists who had taken cover in buildings and houses, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said. The plane had made three successful bombing runs before making the error, he said.

“It’s painful, it’s very sad to be hitting our own troops,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told a news conference in Manila. “Sometimes, in the fog of war, a lot of things could happen.” Precision-guided bombs were used earlier in airstrikes in Marawi’s urban areas, but the military ran out of the high-tech munitions and used conventional ones in Wednesday’s bombing run, he said.

Military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano ordered an investigation. Lorenzana said about 500 militants, including foreign fighters, joined the siege of Marawi, a mosque-studded city that is the heartland of the Islamic faith in the southern Philippines, and that 50 to 100 militants now remain in a few Marawi areas. Eight foreign fighters have been slain in the intense street combat, including a Chechen, a Yemeni and several Malaysians and Indonesians, Lorenzana said.

A total of 120 militants have been killed in the fighting since May 23, when a failed government raid to capture one of Asia’s most-wanted militants, Isnilon Hapilon, triggered the siege of the city by the rebels. Twenty-five of the dead militants have been identified as Filipinos, according to military officials.

At least 25 soldiers, five policemen and more than 24 civilians have been killed in the clashes, Lorenzana said. President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the Mindanao region, the southern third of the Philippines, to crush the insurrection, and poured in troops backed by airstrikes, artillery fire and armored vehicles. More than 3,000 soldiers, marines and air force personnel are involved in the fighting, backed by more than 30 assault aircraft, military officials said.

The unrest has boosted fears that the Islamic State group’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the country’s restive southern islands, where Muslim separatist rebellions have raged for nearly half a century.

“This thing that we see today is the first time that any terror organization in Southeast Asia has taken the bold step to actually overtake an entire territory,” said Jasminder Singh, a senior terrorism analyst with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

He said the siege “will actually become more of a template and motivation for other terrorist organizations who believe they can actually take on government forces.” Officials said troops have cleared about 90 percent of Marawi, a scenic lakeshore city with a population of more than 200,000, many of whom have fled to crowded evacuation camps in outlying towns. About 2,000 people are believed to still be trapped in houses near the fighting, while about 1,000 others have been rescued by police and soldiers from villages that have been cleared of armed extremists, the officials said.

The squalor in the shelters, lack of privacy and shock of the violence moved some displaced residents to tears. Okie Rasul, a fruit vendor and mother of eight, blamed the militants for the uncertainties her family now faces. They fled their home last week amid the horrifying staccato of gunfire and explosions, leaving behind 10,000 pesos ($200) worth of fruit for their business that she bought with a loan.

“We lost everything, our home and my business,” Rasul told the AP as she waited to receive a pack of food and water in an overcrowded emergency shelter in Balo-i town near Marawi. “The only things we saved are the clothes we’re wearing, but at least we’re all alive.”

Associated Press journalists Teresa Cerojano in Manila and Kiko Rosario in Singapore contributed to this report.

Philippines pounds militants; civilians found shot dead

May 28, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Philippine forces launched fresh airstrikes Sunday to drive out militants linked to the Islamic State group after days of fighting left corpses in the streets and hundreds of civilians begging for rescue from a besieged southern city.

The crisis inside Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has grown increasingly dire as the militants showed unexpected strength, fending off the army and soldiers who went house-to-house in search of gunmen.

The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism is growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with IS.

Thousands of civilians have streamed out of Marawi and more than 2,000 were still trapped inside the city. Many sent desperate text messages begging to be rescued and reporting that their homes had been destroyed, said Zia Alonto Adiong, an official in Lanao del Sur province, one of the country’s poorest.

Speaking at an evacuation center outside Marawi, Saddat Liong said his house was hit by mortar fire and burned to the ground. Liong, his wife and eight children lost everything, he said — even their cooking pots.

“I feel that we’ve lost our city,” he said. Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said combat operations were still going on but the militants were weakening. “We believe they’re now low on ammunition and food. Compared to the initial days, there has been increasingly less resistance from the militants within Marawi,” he said, speaking by phone from the capital, Manila.

As the government retakes much of the city, the scope of the battle is becoming clearer. Padilla said Sunday the bodies of four men, three women and a child were found near a road close to the Mindanao State University in Marawi.

Eight other men were found gunned down and thrown in a shallow ravine early Sunday in Marawi’s Emi village, said police officer Jamail Mangadang. A paper sign attached to one of the men indicated the victims “betrayed their faith,” he said.

He identified the men as civilians. Marawi is a mostly Muslim city. In addition to the civilian deaths, Padilla said 61 militants, 11 soldiers and four police were among the dead. The violence erupted Tuesday night when the government launched a raid to capture Ipsilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists. But the operation went awry and militants rampaged through the city, torching buildings and battling government forces in the streets.

A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage. There was no word on their condition.

Philippines forces hit militants; civilians wave white flags

May 27, 2017

MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — Philippine military jets fired rockets at militant positions Saturday as soldiers fought to wrest control of a southern city from gunmen linked to the Islamic State group, witnesses said. Civilians waved flags from their windows to show they are not combatants.

The city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has been under siege by IS-linked militants since a failed raid Tuesday night on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists. Isnilon got away and fighters loyal to him took over parts of the city, burning buildings and seizing about a dozen hostages, including a priest. Their condition is unknown.

The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law in the country’s south, where a Muslim rebellion has raged for decades. “I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly,” Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed in the distance. “I pity the civilians and the women who were near the targeted area. They’re getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon.”

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said government forces are working to “clear the city of all remnants of this group.” He said some civilians refused to evacuate because they want to guard their homes, which is slowing down the government operations.

“But that’s fine as long as civilians are not hurt,” Padilla said. On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of “contamination” by the Islamic State group.

At least 44 people have died in the fighting, including 31 militants and 11 soldiers, officials say. It was not immediately clear whether civilians were among the dead. The violence has forced thousands of people to flee and raised fears of growing extremism.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “contamination by ISIS” loomed in the country’s future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group. “You can say that ISIS is here already,” he said.

He gave his troops a free hand to wrest control of Marawi. “You can arrest any person, search any house without warrant,” said Duterte, who has been criticized for the deaths of thousands of people in a crackdown on illegal drugs.

Still, he also offered dialogue to militants who are not on the streets fighting. “We can still talk about it,” Duterte said. “But those who are out-and-out terrorists, and you cannot be convinced to stop fighting, so be it. Let us fight.”

Hapilon is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to “extricate” him, the country’s military chief said. “Right now, he is still inside (the city),” Gen. Eduardo Ano told the AP. “We cannot just pinpoint the particular spot.”

He said Hapilon suffered a stroke after a government airstrike wounded him in January. Ano predicted that the military operation will take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

“We will make this their cemetery,” he said. “We have to finish this.” In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi, including Indonesians and Malaysians.

Ano also said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. “We suspect that but we’re still validating,” he said. With much of Marawi a no-go zone, confusion reigned. One local police chief told the AP on Friday that he was fine — two days after Duterte announced he had been beheaded by militants.

Hapilon, an Islamic preacher, is a commander of the Abu Sayyaf militant group who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which have a heavy presence in Marawi and were instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

All of the groups are inspired by the Islamic State group, but so far there is no sign of significant, material ties. Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon’s capture.

‘This is a democracy’: Int’l court may be next for Duterte

May 16, 2017

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged Tuesday that allegations he induced extrajudicial killings in his war on drugs could be raised to the International Criminal Court after an impeachment case failed in the House of Representatives.

“Yeah, he can go ahead. He is free to do it. This is a democracy,” Duterte said in reaction to a lawmaker saying he was considering bringing a case against the Philippine leader to the court in The Hague, Netherlands.

The impeachment complaint killed by a House committee Monday accused Duterte of multiple murders and crimes against humanity for adopting a state policy of inducing police and vigilantes into killing more than 8,000 suspected drug users and dealers outside the rule of law. The complaint also accused him of corruption, unexplained wealth, and taking a “defeatist stand” against China’s in the territorial row in the South China Sea.

“It is true that there are deaths — is there a drug war where no one is killed?” Duterte said. “But not in the character and kind that I was dished out, including ordering the killing of a child.” The dismissal of Rep. Gary Alejano’s complaint was widely expected since the House is dominated by Duterte allies. But the president’s critics hope the procedure could bolster a lawsuit filed against him by a Filipino lawyer before the ICC for alleged extrajudicial killings by showing that domestic efforts to stop Duterte have failed.

The dismissal of the complaint, filed in March, bars any new impeachment case against Duterte until next March. Since taking office in June, Duterte’s war on drugs has killed 7,000 to 9,000 suspected drug dealers and addicts, according to human rights groups. The government refutes that, releasing data on May 2 showing nearly 4,600 people have been killed in police anti-drug operations and homicides found to be drug-related.

During Monday’s hearing, Rep. Rodolfo Farinas, the majority floor leader, asked Alejano repeatedly if he had personal knowledge of allegations he made in his complaint. Alejano said he had no personal knowledge as a witness, but that he had personal knowledge as a complainant based on official records, affidavits of witnesses and Duterte’s public pronouncements. Several lawmakers pointed to that distinction to say Alejano’s allegations were hearsay.

Forty-two of 49 committee members then voted to declare the complaint insufficient in substance. A frustrated Alejano told reporters that he’ll discuss with his colleagues from the Magdalo party whether they should file their own complaint before the ICC.

He said it was clear that the impeachment procedure “was railroaded” and that the House “is not independent.”

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