Army gives civilians safety tips in bottles
MARAWI CITY — Plastic bottles with leaflets fell from the sky here, dropped by military helicopters in an operation aimed at delivering an important message to civilians seeking a safe way to flee the battle zone and Islamic State (IS) gunmen wanting to surrender — what to do and where to go.
Instead of bombs falling from the sky, residents here saw plastic bottles with leaflets being dropped by helicopters, which Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, head of the Western Mindanao Command, said could help save more lives, including those of terrorists willing to give up.
“The bottles contain instructions for the noncombatants to know where exactly they should go, as well for the militants, who wish to surrender, to know what they need to do,” Galvez said.
“We are doing this to prevent collateral damage for noncombatants,” he said.
Galvez said at least 33 people, who are relatives of the terrorists, were still inside the battle area.
He said relatives of members of Maute and Abu Sayyaf, two homegrown terror groups affiliated with IS, would be treated as noncombatants as long as they were unarmed.
“We will treat them as nonmilitary objectives,” Galvez said. “They are civilians so they will not be subjected to military operations,” he said.
He added, though, that authorities would still check the relatives’ involvement, if any, in either of the two terror groups. There’s a process for that, he said.
Since the war on terror started on May 23, at least 1,750 hostages had been rescued by the military. One of the rescued hostages was Fr. Chito Soganub, vicar general of Marawi City, a predominantly Muslim area.
Last week, a total of 17 hostages were also rescued by the military in the main battle area.
Galvez said the rescued hostages would soon be reunited with their families.
“We have arranged all that they need, from flight details up to those who will pick them up at the airport to ensure their safety,” Galvez said.
“The delay in their release to their families was due to our effort to get all the information they have so that we can rescue the remaining hostages,” he added.
As the operations continued, an official of Lanao del Sur province, which geographically includes Marawi, sought to allay fears over Islamic preachers who had been going around villages and cities in the province.
Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesperson for the Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee, said there was no need to be apprehensive about the preachers moving around in the province, including Iligan City, which now hosts hundreds of evacuees from Marawi.
The preachers were seen wearing salwar kameez, a traditional garb worn by men in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan and are usually long-sleeved shirts and pajama-like pants white or brown in color.
The preachers, known as Tablighs, roam the province to preach Islam, not violence, Adiong said.
Adiong said the preachers were supposed to be apolitical and would not speak on social issues. “They evangelize only and send the message of Islam,” he said. —Jeoffrey Maitem and Allan Nawal
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