Philippines says militants shot dead at least 16 civilians

Marawi: Islamist militants locked in street-to-street battles with security forces in a southern Philippine city have killed 19 civilians, the military said Sunday, bringing the official death toll from almost a week of fighting to at least 85. Their condition is unknown.

"I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly", Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, said as a plume of black smoke billowed in the distance.

"These are civilians, women".

"They have been sending us text messages, calling our hotline, requesting us to send rescue teams but we can not simply go to areas which are inaccessible to us", said Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.

Military spokesman Brigadier General Restituto Padilla says the dead include a group of four men, three women and a child who were found near a road close to the Mindanao State University in Marawi.

More than 100 people, including 24 civilians, have been killed in six days of fighting, the government said.

On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of "contamination" by the Islamic State group.

According to Gen Padilla, 11 soldiers, two policemen and 31 militants had been confirmed killed in the fighting. It was not immediately clear whether civilians were among the dead. The Philippine army has been trying to flush out rebels of the Islamic State-linked Maute group from the island.

The Maute seized parts of Marawi City on the southern island of Mindanao last week.

A police chief in the southern Philippines says he's safe after Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced earlier that the chief had been beheaded.

He gave his troops a free hand to wrest control of Marawi.

Duterte said on Saturday (May 27) that military rule, limited by the Constitution to 60 days, will remain for as long as necessary, and the Supreme Court and Congress must not intervene.




"In this spirit of Muslim peace, the President has offered the hand of peaceful dialogue to terrorist groups, to avoid bloodshed in this time of prayer, fasting and mercy", Abella said yesterday.

"And in that aspect of the operations that we are conducting, it may seem that these are big activities but there was a need to do surgical air strikes because of strategically in-placed enemy presence", he said.

"We will continue to work with the Philippine authorities to identify any Singaporean who may be involved in terrorism-related activities in the Philippines", a MHA spokesperson told Channel NewsAsia.

The military said he is still wounded from a January air strike and the fierce Maute resistance is aimed at protecting him. "We can not just pinpoint the particular spot".

Ano predicted that the military operation will take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

"We suspect that but we're still validating", he said. "We have to finish this".

Most of the city's 200,000 residents have fled because of the fighting, but 2,000 remain trapped in areas controlled by the militants, according to Zia Alonto Adiong, spokesman for the provincial crisis management committee.

Ano also said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious.

"We are still validating other reports of atrocities".

Much of Marawi remains a no-go zone, but disturbing details have emerged.

Duterte said Wednesday that militants who have laid siege to the city of Marawi had decapitated the police chief of Malabang.

The government had said the Maute Group was bent on getting full recognition from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as "Daesh") by setting up a stronghold.

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