Death toll in Marawi siege rises to 44

GOVERNMENT clearing operations in Marawi City, Lanao del Sur, entered the fourth day on Friday, May 26, with 31 Islamic State group-linked militants and 13 government troopers killed so far, authorities said.

It was not immediately clear whether civilians were among the dead.

As this developed, Malacañang announced that President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to fly to Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, Friday afternoon to personally assess the situation.

Maute group terrorists have torn through the streets of Marawi since Tuesday night, May 23, torching buildings, taking a priest and his worshippers hostage and sealing off much of the city. The violence forced thousands to flee and raised fears of growing extremism in the country.

Lieutenant Colonel Jo-Ar Herrera, 1st Infantry Division spokesperson, said two battalions of soldiers from the 103rd Infantry Brigade, backed by armored personnel carriers and rocket-firing helicopters, continue the clearing operations.

"We are gaining headway," Herrera said. "We will continue to pursue the high value targets until Marawi is cleared of terrorists."

Two combat helicopters took turns in pounding "enemy positions" in what Herrera described as "careful surgical operations."

More than 150 civilians trapped in houses and buildings "have been safely rescued and are now in safe hands," Herrera added.

Lieutenant General Carlito Galvez Jr., commander of the Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom), hailed the 13 government troopers who died in Marawi.

“They made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the city (of Marawi) will be cleared from terror threat and immediately restore normalcy in that part of Mindanao,” Galvez said.

“We once more call on the people in the community to join us fight terrorism. Provide your security forces with information that will contribute to the neutralization of these agents of deaths and destruction,” Galvez said.

“We will exhaust all efforts to crush the remaining Maute members so that the people of Marawi City can go back to their homes the soonest (possible time),” he added.

Senior Superintendent Oscar Nantes, Lanao del Sur police director, said many villages previously occupied by the terrorists have been recovered by government troops.

The Westmincom said six high-powered firearms, including a cal. 30 machine gun, have been recovered.

Herrera, citing information on the ground, said there are about "30 or 40 terrorists who continue to fight the government forces."

Chief Superintendent Reuben Sindac, police director for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, said police personnel from the Regional Public Safety Battalion were deployed in towns outside Marawi City to prevent fleeing terrorists from sowing terror in surrounding municipalities.

More police and military checkpoints have been set up along the Narciso Ramos Highway linking Marawi and Cotabato cities.

Duterte imposed 60 days of martial law Tuesday on the island of Mindanao, a traditional homeland of minority Moro people that encompasses the southern third of the nation and is home to 22 million people. Marawi has a population of around 200,000. (AP/PNA)
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