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Duterte backs out of deal to end siege

MARAWI CITY – President Duterte was preparing to make a deal with Islamic State-inspired militants in the days after they laid siege here, but aborted the plan without explanation, an intermediary involved in the process said.

Agakhan Sharief, a prominent Muslim leader, told Reuters that after a band of Islamist fighters overran parts of this city on May 23 and took hundreds of people hostage, he was approached by a senior Duterte aide to use his connections with the Maute militant group’s leaders to start back-channel talks.

Two other Marawi sources familiar with the matter confirmed the President had worked behind the scenes to hold talks with the Maute brothers, Omarkhayam and Abdullah.

However, the process was halted when Duterte, in a May 31 speech, declared he “will not talk to terrorists.”

It was not immediately clear what prompted Duterte’s about-face. It came five days after another televised speech in which he told the militants “we can still solve this through dialogue,” but if he could not convince them of that, “so be it. Let’s just fight.”

“The problem with our President, his mind is changing always,” said Sharief, a cleric who has had roles in various peace agreements in Mindanao. “He announced he will no longer talk to terrorists and that made our negotiations cut.”