By Francis Wakefield
There’s no longer any way out for the Maute Group still holed up in Marawi City, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff General Eduardo Año said Tuesday as he revealed that a tight security ring has been set up around the besieged city.
The government forces tightly guarding the perimeters of the city will also make sure that sympathizers won’t be able to sneak in to reinforce the Maute terrorists in the main battle area (MBA).
“That’s our main goal. (There’s) no way out, no way in (for them). If they want to join, they want to go to heaven sabi nila, so we will give them the chance to go to heaven,” Año told reporters during the send-off ceremony for the 105-strong, all-female Civil Relations Company (CRC) to Marawi City at the Villamor Airbase in Pasay City on Tuesday.
Among those stilled holed up in Marawi City, according to Año, are Maute Group leaders Abdullah and Omar Maute and Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon.
Despite the presence of the key Maute leaders in the main battle area, Año said they don’t expect the battle to last very long since the area which the terrorists still control is getting smaller each day.
“Mahirap kasing magbigay ng time, pero sabi ko nga kahapon we have seen the developments and the progress of our campaign. Deliberately, nakukuha na natin iyung mga strongholds nila lalo na yung Grand Islamic Mosque. And we are happy to say na na preserve natin na hindi natin ito binomba (I don’t want to give a timetable, but like what I said yesterday, we have seen the developments and the progress of our campaign. Deliberately we are getting their stongholds especially the Grand Islamic Mosque, and we are happy to say that we have preserve it and we didn’t bomb it),” Ano said.
“Wala tayong pinapasok dito, and in fact nakapag-conduct na nga ng service or rights doon iyung ating mga Muslim na sundalo at kapulisan. Nakapag offer na ng prayer doon at nakapag samba na sila dun sa mosque (We are not letting anybody in, and in fact our Muslim brothers who are soldiers and policemen have already held their service or rights. Prayers were offered and they already went to the mosque to worship).”
“Small area na lang ito, less than square, about 500 square meters but sabi ko nga we will expect fierce confrontation with the Maute,” he added.
On Monday, the attempt to reinforce Maute Group fighters still holed up in Marawi was foiled when alert troops killed 10 terrorists following a three-hour clash in Lanao Lake, Lanao del Sur.
The 10 suspected terrorists were trying to sneak into the main battle area when soldiers from a task group monitoring Lake Lanao chanced upon them on board two motorized pump boats at about 2:30 a.m. Monday.
“So gusto lang natin ipakita dito na (We just want to show here) anywhere they go, if they will attempt to reinforce or they will escape, we are ready to get them),” Año said.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) is now preparing for the rehabilitation of the Marawi City Police Station which the Maute Group occupied when they attacked the city on May 23.
PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa said that after it was retaken by government forces a few weeks ago, they have long planned on how to carry out the renovation of the Marawi City Police Station.
“We will replace it after the war there. We cannot just deploy carpenters there because the firefight is ongoing,” said Dela Rosa. (With a report from Aaron B. Recuenco)
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