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Fighting Continues in Philippines      05/28 10:23

   Philippine forces found corpses in the streets of a besieged southern city 
on Sunday, including at least eight civilians who appeared to have been 
executed, as soldiers battled a weakened but still forceful group of militants 
linked to the Islamic State group.

   MARAWI, Philippines (AP) -- Philippine forces found corpses in the streets 
of a besieged southern city on Sunday, including at least eight civilians who 
appeared to have been executed, as soldiers battled a weakened but still 
forceful group of militants linked to the Islamic State group.

   The death toll from six days of fighting neared 100. 

   The crisis in Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has grown increasingly 
dire as the militants show unexpected strength, fending off a military that has 
unleashed attack helicopters, armored vehicles and scores of soldiers.

   The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 
days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist 
rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent bloodshed in Marawi has raised 
fears that extremism is growing as smaller militant groups unify and align 
themselves with the Islamic State group.

   Much of the city is a no-go zone, but as the military advances and more 
civilians escape, the scope of the battle is becoming clear.

   Thousands of civilians have streamed out of Marawi and more than 2,000 were 
still trapped inside the city. Many sent desperate text messages begging to be 
rescued and reporting that their homes had been destroyed, said Zia Alonto 
Adiong, an official in Lanao del Sur, one of the country's poorest provinces.

   "Have mercy on us, we don't have any more water to drink," read one of the 
messages, sent to a hotline set up for trapped residents.

   The Associated Press was shown the messages by relief workers at a 
provincial government complex in Marawi. Another message asked authorities to 
retrieve three bodies that were rotting near a resident's home.

   Speaking at the evacuation center on Sunday, Saddat Liong said his house was 
hit by mortar fire and burned to the ground. Liong, his wife and eight children 
lost everything, he said --- even their cooking pots.

   "I feel that we've lost our city," he said. 

   Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said that combat operations 
were still going on, but that the militants were weakening.

   "We believe they're now low on ammunition and food," he said, speaking by 
phone from Manila, the capital. "Compared to the initial days, there has been 
increasingly less resistance from the militants within Marawi."

   Padilla said the bodies of four men, three women and a child were found near 
a road close to Mindanao State University in Marawi.

   Eight other men were found gunned down and thrown into a shallow ravine 
early Sunday in Marawi's Emi village, said police officer Jamail Mangadang. A 
paper sign attached to one of the men indicated that the victims had "betrayed 
their faith," he said, identifying the men as civilians.

   Marawi is a mostly Muslim city. 

   In addition to the civilian deaths, Padilla said 61 militants, 11 soldiers 
and four police were among the dead.

   The violence erupted Tuesday night when the government launched a raid to 
capture Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington's list of most-wanted terrorists. 
But the operation went awry and militants rampaged through the city, torching 
buildings and battling government forces in the streets.

   A priest and several worshippers were taken hostage. There was no word on 
their condition.

   Hapilon, an Islamic preacher, was once a commander of the Abu Sayyaf 
militant group who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He 
now heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the 
Maute, which has a heavy presence in Marawi and has been instrumental in 
fighting off government forces in the current battles.

   All of the groups are inspired by the Islamic State group. Defense Secretary 
Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that Hapilon has received funds from the 
Islamic State group.

   Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to 
Hapilon's capture. 


(KA)

 
 
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