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Many civilians likely killed in siege

By: Reuters and Francis T. Wakefield

MANILA/MARAWI CITY – The Armed Forces said yesterday it was likely that large numbers of civilians had been killed during the five-week occupation of Marawi City by Islamist rebels due to “atrocities” by the militants allied with Islamic State.

A toll of 27 Marawi residents killed was only what the authorities could independently confirm and a “significant number” of dead had been seen by those who had escaped the fighting between the jihadists and government forces, said Armed Forces spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

“The number you have right now is 27, (it) may increase significantly once we are able to validate all this information,” Padilla told a news conference.

“There have been a significant number that have been seen but again, we cannot include many of these.”

He said the cause of those deaths would be “atrocities committed by the terrorists.”

Among those atrocities, the Army says, have been the forcing of residents to loot homes, take up arms, or become sex slaves.

The military has been reluctant to discuss the possibility that the real impact of the fighting on civilians could be far more severe than has been reported.

It has played down the impact of daily airstrikes and mortar assaults aimed at rebel sniper positions, which have reduced areas of the lakeside town to rubble and alarmed people trapped there, some of whom claim the shelling was a bigger threat to them than the militants.

Disaster officials are keen to start dangerous missions to recover what they believe are large numbers of bodies in the streets near the conflict zone.

The battle for Marawi entered its 36th day yesterday, with intense gunfights and bombing in the heart of the town and black-clad fighters seen from afar running between buildings as explosions rang out.

Marawi is the only city in the Christian-majority Philippines that the government has decreed to be “Islamic,” because of its large population of Muslims.

The rebels’ hold on it, while incurring the full force of the military, has much of the region on edge, concerned that Islamic State’s influence may run deeper than thought.

Those fears are being felt also in Malaysia and Indonesia, whose nationals are among the Maute Group rebels fighting in Marawi, suggesting the group may have built a cross-border network that has gone largely undetected until now.

President Duterte had said that from the outset, he was prepared for a long fight with a well-armed Maute motivated only by murder and destruction.

“It seems they have a limitless supply. They were able to stockpile their arms,” he said. “Some of those who travelled to the Middle East got contaminated, brought the ideology back home and promised to declare war against humanity.”

Meanwhile, Padilla said 299 Maute Group fighters have been killed in the ongoing fighting in Marawi.

The military has so far recovered the bodies of more than half of them, Padilla added.

Among the bodies recovered were could be those of two Middle Eastern looking men. “Nung isang araw may nakarating na balita hindi ko nakita ’yung report. Sinabi lang sa akin na may na-recover daw na likelihood na itong dalawang cadaver na to ay remains ng foreign fighters kasi they look like Middle Eastern, Middle Eastern features,” Padilla said.