Duterte urged to open talks for release of 200 hostages
ILIGAN CITY—Amid the suspension of a humanitarian ceasefire in war-torn Marawi, civil society organizations are urging President Duterte to open negotiations with Islamic State (IS)-inspired terrorists for the release of more than 200 hostages and the grant of safe passage to more than 2,000 civilians trapped in the besieged city.
On Tuesday, rescue missions by volunteers from the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were suspended, temporarily shutting the “peace corridor,” Agakhan Mangondato Sharief, a volunteer rescuer, said.
A joint initiative of the government and the MILF peace implementing panels, the peace corridor was set up on Saturday and was formally launched on Sunday.
It allowed a four-hour ceasefire, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon, with rescuers going around homes and buildings and evacuating 134 civilians.
“We would like to make clear that any negotiation with the militants should be strictly on humanitarian grounds,” said Maranao woman leader Samira Gutoc-Tomawis.
Tomawis said the peace corridor was established because both the military and the Maute terror group besieging the city had agreed to it.
“So here, we see an opening for talking to the militants on humanitarian reasons,” she said.
“There is no reason why this opportunity should not be optimized. We are talking here of the lives of more than 2,000 people,” she added.
Pendatun Disimban of the Bangsamoro Solidarity Network said opening negotiations for the release of hostages was nothing new for the government.
“Why is it that in the case of captives of the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu and Basilan, [the] government has a track record of negotiating for their release, even to the extent of suspending the military’s pursuit operations,” Disimban said.
“Here in Marawi, we have more than 2,000 lives at stake, plus the possibility of wreaking massive devastation on a city filled with history, heritage,” he added.
According to Dickson Hermoso, a retired military officer who is now an assistant secretary in the Office of the Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process, contact with the Maute group was established through an emissary on Saturday to negotiate the setting up of a peace corridor.
Hermoso added that the peacemakers were in direct contact with Abdullah Maute, younger brother of Omarkhayam Maute.
The brothers are the leaders of the terror group that reportedly has submitted to the leadership of Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon, who has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group in Iraq and Syria.
Irene Santiago, chair of the government’s peace implementing panel, said the emissary was respected by both the military and the Maute group.
“He has been involved in the peace process, doing monitoring work, and peace education. We know him, we know his work. And we trust him and the MILF has confidence in him,” Santiago said, adding that the emissary was jointly selected by the implementing panels.
Hermoso said the Maute group asked that those who would serve in the rescue teams “should be Muslims, preferably Maranao [and] who know the Quran verses.”
Santiago said the Maute group’s consent to the peace corridor had no conditions.
“This is a process, I guess, of negotiations. When you’re negotiating, you try not to offer anything, and we didn’t,” she said.
The government panel negotiated with the Maute group on purely humanitarian grounds, she said.
“We are not negotiating anything political,” she added.
In a press briefing in Marawi on Monday, Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Jesus Dureza said the peace corridor was being evaluated, including its impact on the military operation against the terrorists.
Dureza said a ceasefire was a “double-edged sword,” providing an “opportunity for saving lives and for the enemy to take advantage.”
The government, however, is putting a premium on saving as many civilians as possible, he said.
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, chief of the military’s Western Mindanao Command, said more than 2,300 civilians remained trapped in their homes and in buildings in sections of the city where government forces and terrorists were locked in combat.
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