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Maute men trapped

By: Reuters and AP

MARAWI CITY – Islamist militants holed up here have been cornered and their firepower is flagging, the military said yesterday, as the five-week battle for control of this city raged on.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera said the number of militants holding out here had dwindled to “a little over 100.”

Lt. Col. Christopher Tampus said: “Their area has been reduced to one square kilometer only.” Tampus’ troops are blocking escape routes across bridges spanning a river to the west of the militants.

“Our forces are coming from the east and the north and we are blocking the three bridges,” he said.

Tampus said that the militants were still using snipers who were firing from “strategic nests” in schools and mosques and homemade bombs were hampering the progress of government troops as they advance house by house. He said he had seen at least five civilians dressed in black who appeared to have been forced to stand in the street as human shields.

Despite signs that the insurgents are now on the back foot, Southeast Asian governments are worried that the siege could be just the prelude to further violence as the ultra-radical Islamic State group tries to establish a foothold in their region.

Jolted by the May 23 attack here, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have launched joint patrols to control the movement of militants across their archipelagic region and their foreign ministers gathered in Manila yesterday for talks.

The three countries plan to closely cooperate to halt the flow of militants, weapons, funds, and extremist propaganda across their borders as they expressed alarm over recent attacks in their countries.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano and his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts, with top security officials, discussed a joint plan of action and expressed “concern over the recent incidents of terrorism and violent extremism in their countries” and their desire to plot joint strategies to combat it.

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