DAVAO CITY – Philippine Muslim rebels have offered to help the government rescue hundreds of civilians, including a Catholic priest, being held by local ISIS fighters in the war-torn city of Marawi in Lanao del Sur province.
Ghazali Jaafar, vice chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, made the offer during a recent meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in Davao City. Jaafar was with Murad Ebrahim, the MILF chieftain, and other senior rebel leaders when the met with Duterte at a military base to discuss the crisis in Marawi where militants are holding at least 240 hostages.
“We have offered our help to our beloved president to help facilitate the coming out of civilians from their residences and the good president granted our request,” Jaafar said.
MILF members, who were joined by armed civilians, had clashed with ISIS fighters in Marawi after militants tried to blow up a bridge connecting several villages there. It was unknown whether the MILF offer to help in the crisis would affect similar offer by the rival group Moro National Liberation Front, whose chieftain, Nur Misuari, said he is ready to deploy thousands of fighters to help security forces battle the ISIS militants.
Security forces have already rescued over 500 civilians trapped in Marawi since the clashes erupted on May 23 when heavily-armed members of the Maute group and Abu Sayyaf militants attacked the city which caught soldiers and policemen by surprise. The military claimed dozens of militants had been killed, but many soldiers and civilians also perished in the violence with jihadists executing Christian villagers and Muslims alike who they accused as “munafiq” or traitors to their faith.
On Wednesday, Duterte approved the setting up of so-called “peace corridor” which will be implemented by the government and MILF to “hasten the rescue and humanitarian operations for civilians still trapped in the conflict zone in Marawi.”
The MILF vowed to cooperate with government in securing the areas where these peace corridors will be established and utilize existing peace mechanisms, particularly the Joint Coordinating Committees on the Cessation of Hostilities. The peace corridor is a secure space where humanitarian groups may evacuate wounded and trapped civilians and retrieve dead bodies for burial.
The Naval Forces Western Mindanao also sent off two vessels to Marawi on Tuesday to support troops fighting the militants. Both ships – Landing Craft 288 (BRP Waray) and 298 (BRP Ivatan) – were carrying Fleet-Marine Team composed of combat service support elements and K9 units, including relief goods for civilians affected by the conflict.
“These troops and equipment are being sent to augment the military in the continuous fighting between the government forces and Maute group in Marawi City. The AFP is positive that these additional personnel and logistical support will strengthen the military stronghold in the area and will eventually crush these lawless elements,” said Rear Admiral Rene Medina. (Mindanao Examiner)
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