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Dusty teddy bear depicts Marawi ruin


MARAWI CITY – A dusty teddy bear strewn on the floor, family photos on a wall, and dried underwear on a clothesline are among the few remnants of life in deserted homes here left in ruins by war.

A dog eats the carcass of a cat on a street littered with rubbish where soldiers patrol, while military planes and helicopters continue the relentless bombing of Islamist militants hidden in other homes a kilometer away.

Nearly all of the 200,000 residents here have fled since hundreds of gunmen linked to the Islamic State group went on a rampage on May 23, triggering a conflict that has destroyed entire districts and left the others vulnerable to looting.

Marawi has long been the Islamic cultural and commercial capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, with a lake and cool mountain air making it a popular summer retreat, but parts now resemble the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo.

Its residents are left in torment in nearby evacuation centers or friends’ homes, waiting for the fighting to end and find out what has become of their homes.

“Maybe there is nothing left. Our home may have been reduced to ashes. We heard our village was bombed and our house is just made of wood and bamboo,” Rasmia Abdullah, 24, told AFP with watering eyes in a crowded gym close to this city.

“It’s very painful because we were already rebuilding our house after a fire when the war broke out. Now we really have nothing.”

The war has also ended all types of business here – a city renowned for its traders – and locals fear looting has stripped well-off homes that were known to keep vaults of cash, jewelry, and heirlooms.

But the impact is hardest on poor residents such as Abdullah, a mother-of-three and a banana and rice cake vendor, who fled Marawi with only the clothes on her back and leaving her wares to rot.

“If I could only save the machine I used to make rice cakes, I would do that to make a living. It pains me that the city I grew up in, all I worked for was gone and I don’t know how to bring it back,” she said.

In the schools and gymnasiums being used as evacuation centers, residents’ trauma is compounded by not knowing what has happened to their homes.

Vegetable farmer Amerodin Esmayatin, 35, said his cousins had told him that his house was first looted and later on bombed. “We were already fleeing for our lives and yet people still took the little we had,” Esmayatin told AFP in a displacement camp where he and his family of five were staying.