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AFP to bar civilians from returning to Marawi now

RUINED CITY Airstrikes and artillery bombardment have left much of Marawi City in ruins. —AFP

MARAWI CITY — The Armed Forces of the Philippines will not allow civilians displaced by the ongoing crisis here to return to their homes as soldiers continue to flush out the remaining members of Islamic State-inspired militants from the Maute Group and their Abu Sayyaf affiliates.

Capt. Jo-Ann Petinglay, spokesperson of the Task Force Marawi, said on Tuesday, the Western Mindanao Command chief, Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr., and the 103rd Brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Joselito Bautista, have not yet given the green light for the return of the evacuees.

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More than 400,000 people have been displaced since violence erupted on May 23.

Residents displaced by the fighting, along with non-government organizations and Muslim religious leaders, were supposed to return here Monday, but had to move their plan either July 26 or 27.

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Petinglay said it would be risky for civilians to return as troops were still clearing the the city of terrorists, unexploded ordnance and improvised bombs planted by the militants.

“The search and recovery of dead bodies is being done and, in coordination with the Department of Health, we are also clearing the area of any viruses and bacteria that may cause epidemic if residents
return prematurely,” she said.

Petinglay said soldiers have continued to recover more bombs inside and out of the battle zone.

“Several improvised explosive devices were recovered in different areas within and outside the main battle area by our EOD teams,” she said.

She said the explosives were planted by the militants and were meant to “inflict casualties among soldiers tracking them.”

YEARNING FOR HOME Evacuees from Marawi City take shelter at a school gymnasium in Iligan City as they wait for government clearance to return to their war-torn hometown. —BARRY OHAYLAN

YEARNING FOR HOME Evacuees from Marawi City take shelter at a school gymnasium in Iligan City as they wait for government clearance to return to their war-torn hometown. (PHOTO BY BARRY OHAYLAN IN INQUIRER)

“This is one reason why there is a need to clear every single house because, if left undiscovered, the IED will certainly victimize residents returning to their homes,” she added.

Petinglay reported that 109 soldiers, 453 militants and 45 civilians have died since fighting erupted.

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Brig. Gen. Ramiro Manuel Rey, commander of the Joint Task Force Ranao, said 60 to 70 militants have remained, putting up a fight inside the city.

“There are 80 to 100 hostages inside the mosque, and we can not just take them down in the mosque out of respect,” Rey said.

One of the hostages is Catholic priest Teresito “Chito” Suganob, the vicar general of Marawi.

Based on the accounts of two hostages who had escaped, Fr. Chito still alive, according to Marawi City Bishop Edwin dela Peña.

Dela Peña refused to identify the escaped hostages when interviewed Tuesday over the radio.  SFM

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