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Maute death toll now 19

The death toll on the side of the dreaded Maute group has reached 19 as the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) continues its intensive military operations in Lanao Del Sur.

AFP spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said the casualties increased after the military conducted fresh operation in Butig town. 13 members of the AFP meantime were wounded during the encounters and are currently recuperating at an undisclosed hospital.

“The wounded soldiers were evacuated to safer grounds and brought to treatment centers. Most of them were slightly wounded and their conditions are not life threatening,” Padilla said during a press briefing at Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

Padilla said the troops backed by SF-260 and OV 10 attack planes from the Philippine Air Force (PAF)continue to advance as part of efforts to flush out the rebels.

“We can say that the number of casualties could go up as fighting between troops and the Maute Group continues. We have been receiving reports that the clashes are spread out in different areas,” Padilla said.

Padilla, in the same press briefing, said that the areas where the Maute Group members are hiding are mostly occupied by their relatives or followers.

“Most of the residents who are not followers of the group have already fled their homes and sought refuge to safer grounds,” Padilla said.

The town has been nearly deserted, with Butig mayor Jimmy Pansar saying 16,000 residents have evacuated.

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office also reported 1,995 families have received relief packs.

The terror group, which pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS), returned to the abandoned town hall they previously took over in February and flew the black IS flag in place of the Philippine flag. They also seized a madrasa and a high school.

The group was allegedly behind the Davao City night market bombing last September 2, when 15 died and around 70 were hurt. (FRANCIS T. WAKEFIELD)